Summary: On a day just like any other, twins Danny and Pam are planning to spend some time in their clubhouse, the Jolly Roger, when Danny is threatened with a knife and Pam is physically attacked. Thankfully, a woman named Carol and her dog come along before more harm can be done, but it is already too late – the twins’ lives are changed forever. Danny blames himself for not protect Pam better, and Pam is haunted by fear that prevents her from leaving the house. With the help of friends, time and the new knowledge of another horrific family event, Danny and Pam journey through their fear and grief and end up contributing to the investigation into the man that assaulted Pam.
Number of Pages: 232
Age Range: 13-15
Review: An earnest story about the reality of grief and fear in the face of an act of random violence, Becky Citra’s If Only follows the reactions of twins Danny and Pam after Pam is attacked. It’s a grim tale, but Citra aids its telling by providing the twins with wonderfully supportive friends willing to help them get through their trauma.
Backed by an emotionally compromised father and a family secret, Danny and Pam are facing an uphill battle when it comes to processing and surviving the attack. There’s a lot of guilt on Danny’s part because he wasn’t able to stop the event from happening, and Pam feels a certain amount of shame because she worries she brought it on herself. I thought Citra’s exploration of the complicated feelings that follow such an act was honest, but I was also extremely happy she had Pop help Danny see things in a new light. That sometimes terrible things just happen, and thinking about all of the ‘if onlys…’ doesn’t really help in the long run.
At the same time, while it is a book that covers serious themes, there’s a level it doesn’t cross. While Danny and Pam are changed, the attacker is found and convicted, and Danny especially plays a large role in his capture. Even the trauma that occurred in the past is neatly wrapped up, although Danny and Pam’s father is still paying the emotional cost. It’s an uncomplicated ending as a result, which makes If Only a read suitable to early to mid teen readers. While attacks do take place, they are not described graphically.
Set in 1968, Citra’s story gave me new insight into the time period, and I wonder if the same events would garner different reactions in our present day and age.
“Mr. Leary’s glittering eyes probe his students. ‘Martin Luther King once said, “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”‘
Everyone is quiet. ‘The flood of fear.’ That was exactly what Danny had felt when he saw the knife. Fear, gushing through his limbs, turning his knees to water.” – Danny listening to his teacher describe his fear from If Only by Becky Citra, page 39
“He’s drained when he’s finished. Wiped. At first he doesn’t even realize that he’s crying. He rubs the tears away fiercely. Sniffs in the snot that is leaking from his nose.
‘I should have saved Pam,’ he whispers.
‘Now wait a minute,’ Pop says. Danny hears a hint of the old Pop, before Shady Haven. ‘You listen to what I’m gonna tell you. You can’t be a hero every day. Life doesn’t work that way. You can’t do it. No one can. That’s something you and your dad gotta learn.’
His eyes lock into Danny’s. ‘That just wasn’t your day to be a hero.'” – Conversation between Danny and Pop from If Only by Becky Citra, page 192