We've all had those 'What if ... ' moments: "What if I'd gone through that traffic light instead of waiting?" "What if I'd been three further ahead in the line for lottery tickets?" An infinitesimal change in circumstances with life changing consequences. The literary conceit of 'The Accident at 13th and Jefferson' delightfully explores just that. Three different takes on the same event -- a rock thrown up by a careening motorcycle strikes and kills a bystander. A boy's birthday party has just ended. He and his parents are walking his best friend and the friend's mother through the front yard to their home next door. In the first tale, it is the boy's mother who dies, leaving her husband struggling to find the parenting skills he'd relied upon her to provide. In the next, it is the father who dies, leaving the boy to find a male role model in his unreliable and criminal uncle. In the final story, the boy himself is struck down, leaving his parents and best friend each to struggle with their grief. That the best friend doesn't know he is the son of a presidential contender spices up the mix even more.
I liked that more is revealed about each character as the book progressed, and appreciated the short coda at the end in which everyone is spared. Carlton's dialogue is well written and her plot moves along nicely, while still allowing for descriptive character development. Having lost a parent as a young girl, I was concerned this would be an emotionally difficult book to read. My trepidation was unwarranted -- the characters' grief felt utterly genuine but not overdone. Indeed, overall it was an uplifting book and a paean to the strength of love and friendship.