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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Book review: Cruelty and kindness in Denfeld’s ‘Sleeping Giants’

By Ron Sylvester For The Spokesman-Review

In “Sleeping Giants,” Rene Denfeld tells an awakening story that weighs the complex balance between human cruelty and kindness.

It’s the intriguing story of a socially awkward woman, a retired police officer and a polar bear. It centers around Amanda Dufresne, a young neurodivergent zoologist struggling to find answers to her past. Adopted into a loving family, Amanda goes searching for her older biological brother, whom she learns died 20 years earlier at age 9, swept out to sea by violent waves on the Northwest coast.

Her search takes her to a coastal Oregon village, where she befriends Larry Palmer, a retired police officer and recent widower living out a lonely life in a forsaken and isolated area between the woods and the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He takes an interest in Amanda’s search to find out what happened to her brother, Dennis Owens, who had been institutionalized in a boys’ home before his death. As the two try to unravel the mystery of young Dennis ’ presumed drowning, they uncover a story of a tortuous life of children abandoned by a foster care system meant to protect and care for them.

At the heart of Dennis’ story is a failed therapy system endured by children in real life, and which Denfeld says is still in use today. Known as “holding time,” Denfeld brings the suffering of children subjected to this “care” to vivid life. Denfeld bases the details in this fictional novel on real-life experiences and issues she encountered as a foster parent.

Denfeld’s writing is concise but uses detail and empathy to bring these complex characters to life. Amanda, for instance, is a zoologist who cares for an orphaned polar bear named Molly while also trying to search for answers in her past through her dead brother. Larry, still mourning the death of his wife, is living his own dead-end existence in a place he never wanted to be, when Amanda shows up and gives his life a new purpose.

As they search for answers to Dennis’ death, they uncover new mysteries, and deadly new questions, leading up to a surprise ending that will leave the reader breathless. It’s one of those tales where you’re never quite sure who is being truthful and who isn’t. “Sleeping Giants” is the kind of book that just might keep you awake at night. And that could be good – if you enjoy an adrenaline rush.