Award-winning journalist and Princeton University professor David Kushner was 4 years old when he asked his 11-year-old brother to bring home his favorite candy from the convenience store, just a short bike ride away through the woods. He could not have imagined that he would never see Jon again. Neither could his family, or anyone else in 1973 Tampa, Florida, where children were free to explore the outside world and parents fearlessly encouraged it. Jon’s brutal murder killed such innocence. Kushner’s riveting memoir, Alligator Candy, begins by asking how any parent or family can survive such unimaginable evil and devastating grief.
Growing up in the shadow of Jon’s death, Kushner heard the rumors and imagined all kinds of things, but he resisted learning the factual details of the crime, afraid of asking questions that could resurrect his parents’ grief. When, years later, one of the killers received a parole hearing, Kushner and his oldest brother attended. They learned how horrifically Jon died, how the killers were caught—and what became of the candy Jon never brought home that day.
Kushner interviews those who searched for Jon and hunted down his killers. He taps the memories of those who mourned with and supported his family. His parents at last share their boundless sorrow, and how they survived. “Time goes by,” writes his mother, “and grief finds a niche . . . and goes along, too, included in everything. ‘I’m here,’ says Grief. ‘Never mind me, just go about your business.’ ” Finally, he knows as much as he can about the brother he was barely old enough to remember.
Now a parent himself, Kushner must balance his fear of random evil against the statistical rarity of child murder. The struggle becomes terrifyingly real when his 3-year-old daughter disappears at a carnival. Yet he goes on to share the joy of her first solo bike ride. Parents today can understand the love, hope and fear he so eloquently describes in this account of one family’s transcendent courage in the face of crushing pain.