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The dangers of secrets, the power of belonging and how much bravery it takes to finally close the distance between who we pretend to be and who we really are.

At the Center begins in 2005 when seven-year-old Anthony Little Eagle falls to his death on the concrete patio beneath the balcony of his foster home. The police decide that his death was a tragic accident but foster care supervisor Sylvia Jensen suspects foul play. She forms an unlikely alliance with investigative reporter J.B. Harrell, and together they risk their careers and their lives to find the truth. Interspersed with their story is the 1972 story of seven-year-old Jamie Buckley who lives in a foster home where he is loved and cherished until his birth parent’s questions lead the child welfare system to intervene and Mary Williams must fight to keep her foster son Jamie against a system that seeks to tear her family apart.

The stories of two seven-year-old boys in At the Center are intertwined with the secrets and personal demons of the families and the foster care and social workers that shape their lives. From the stark poverty of American Indian reservations to the hidden dangers of affluent suburbia, two people unlock the mysteries of their own pasts in order to bring a killer to justice.


What Readers are saying:


At the Center combines Van Soest’s depiction of a world that she, as a social worker and professor, is intimately familiar with, and all the ingredients of an exciting mystery novel. – Readers’ Favorite, Five Stars Review

Imagine a soft-boiled twist on detective Sam Spade as a liberal alcoholic female social worker and you’ll begin to get a sense of the originality of Sylvia Jensen, the dysfunctionally unstoppable protagonist of Dorothy Van Soest’s new novel At the Center. With moments of heart-pounding tension and others of heartbreaking poignancy, the tale follows Jensen’s guilt-ridden mission to expose and right the terrible injustices of a child-welfare system more concerned with self-protection than protecting the children under its care—who are turning up dead. The fast-moving plot and sharply drawn political and moral conflicts grabbed me by the heart and dragged me through to its surprising conclusion. —Shawn Lawrence Otto, award-winning author of Sins of Our Fathers

The violent death of a small child and plight of innocents enmeshed in a broken foster care system set the stage for this bold page-turner. Through rich, complex characters and compelling storyline, the author binds us in themes that raise our hackles, break our hearts and has us cheering for the flawed heroine whose search for hope and justice crisscrosses five generations. If you’re a reader who demands substance and depth with great storytelling, don’t miss this one. It kept me awake for three nights so plan your days accordingly. —Hal Zina Bennett, bestselling author of Write From the Heart:


Unleashing the Power of Your Creativity At the Center is an engaging read that had me guessing until the end. Dorothy Van Soest has managed to take a very complex and emotionally charged set of issues and weave them into a story that honors the real lives of people touched, and sometimes mauled, by the child welfare system. —Terry Cross, Director, National Indian Child Welfare Association

At the Center grabs your heart early as it leads you on the never-ending cultural clash that exists in our country. You will not want to set this book down until you have read it to the end. —Roy I. Rochon Wilson, Honorary Chief and Spiritual Leader, Cowlitz Indian Tribe

At the Center is a mystery novel that completely engages you as it weaves and resolves a set of facts and intertwining stories. As a lifetime social worker, I know that foster care is a mystery to nearly everyone outside the system. Dorothy Van Soest does a beautiful job of illuminating policy and practice issues that effect abused and neglected children and their families. Readers will come to understand some of the complex factors in child protection as the mystery unfolds. —Janis Avery, CEO, Treehouse

No stranger to the child welfare system, Van Soest has written a page-turner that weaves many important themes into a novel that sometimes reads like an expose. The system is flawed, but the author manages to capture different points of view in an engaging and interesting saga.

—Pamela Lowell, LICSW, Author

Returnable Girl and Spotting for Nellie Van Soest’s experience as a writer, social worker, political activist and university professor come together in At the Center to plunge you into the underpinnings of a broken system. Her familiarity with the complex system of child protection, foster care and adoption, as well as the legal issues involved in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), is apparent in the way she has crafted a mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end. For me, as a social worker who has worked in child protection and trained staff on the legal requirements of ICWA, At the Center was a heartbreaking read. As an avid fan of mysteries, I could not put the book down until I had finished the very last page! —Yvonne Chase, PhD, LCSW, University of Alaska Anchorage

At the Center, a bold and courageous novel that tackles the difficult issues confronting the child welfare system, speaks in considerable depth to the question of “what is in the best interest of a child” and how that plays out in the context of a native child. It is told through the voice of a tired social worker that carries considerable trauma from her years of social work practice. She joins an investigative journalist to expose the facts of a child’s death and in the process finds inner peace and purpose. In the telling of the story, Dorothy Van Soest brings to life characters that have depth, compassion, human failings and values, in a masterful way. This is a very good read. —Uma Ahluwalia, Child Welfare Professional

At The Center is a compelling and multi-layered page-turner. Through her story revolving around a Native American child caught in the foster care system, Van Soest manages to entertain as she enlightens on how culture, history, identity and institutions interact in often-tragic ways. —Robin DiAngelo, author, What Does it Mean to Be White: Developing White Racial Literacy

At the Center provides valuable insights into an important area of child welfare practice-American Indian child welfare (ICWA). This mystery novel illuminates some of the influences that impact worker’s decisions and relays the complex, multi-layered effects of removing Indian children from their families and communities. While not providing any answers, the engrossing stories of two American Indian boys will get you thinking. —Priscilla Day, Department Chair, Social Work and Director, Center for Regional and Tribal Child Welfare Studies, and Anne Tellett, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, University of Minnesota Duluth

At the Center is a mystery novel filled with drama and surprises that make it impossible to put down. The interconnected stories of two American Indian boys provide one of the most powerful portrayals of the intricacies of the child welfare system that I have ever seen. This is a must read book for child welfare practitioners, students, educators, and just anyone interested in a powerful story of family relationships. – Ruth McRoy, Professor, Boston College School of Social Work

At the Center

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