Review: The Nowhere Child by Christian White
Twenty years ago, Sammy Went was taken from her home in Manson, Kentucky. She’s now a photography teacher called Kim Leamy, living in Australia, completely unaware of her forgotten past until her long-lost brother Stuart tracks her down.
Flying back to America, Kim and Stuart try to get to the bottom of why she was kidnapped and how she ended up living on the other side of the world. Having lost her ‘mum’ years ago and unable to get the truth out of her stepfather, Kim has no choice but to dive into the deepest, darkest parts of Manson. Of particular interest a snake-obsessed cult called The Church of the Light Within, who seem to have brainwashed her mother shortly prior to her abduction…
When I first finished The Nowhere Child I gave it four stars, because it filled me with adrenaline. It has a hugely climactic ending that had me rushing to finish and a twist-filled resolution that I didn’t see coming, and it’s not often that thrillers surprise me!
However, after a couple of days reflection I’ve realised that one of the reasons I didn’t see the ending coming was because the red herrings placed throughout are done in an extremely unskillful manner, purposefully duping the reader and not making much sense to the wider plot.
The detective in charge of the case arranges a date with someone with the surname Leamy, making it impossible to believe it’s anyone other than Kim’s kidnapper – it’s a very unusual surname, after all – but she’s dropped in and then never revisited, so it’s not very satisfying to be misled in such an unsubtle way.
Then there’s the surname of the main family. A girl with the surname of Went gets kidnapped? Jeeeeeesus, that’s some heavy-handed naming. Cringe.
The plot of The Nowhere Child is intelligent, but these simple choices definitely detract from the impact of the book. It’s frustrating, because they’re such easy things to change, and I’m surprised that they weren’t altered during the editing process: if the red herrings had been gentle hints rather than forceful shoves in the wrong direction it would have been a far more enjoyable novel.
However, those aspects are only enough to get me to drop my rating down to three stars, because I still enjoyed the majority of The Nowhere Child. Bouncing from the present day back to when Sammy was taken, we get to learn more about the Went family and the people of Manson, and I found myself interested in all of their stories.
This book features a very strong cast of characters, from Sammy’s mother – struggling with post-natal depression and embraced by a cult – to Sammy’s father, who himself is struggling with his sexuality. Although I didn’t like some of the characters, I enjoyed reading about all of them, and I would have happily read this as a duology – one book taking place at the time when Sammy was taken, and one picking up the story twenty years later when Stuart managed to track Kim down.
I’m certainly going to be looking out for Christian White’s work in the future, because The Nowhere Child shows an author with a lot of potential. It’s not a surprise that it’s won the same award that The Dry by Jane Harper took home a few years ago (and you all know how much I love The Dry!) so hopefully I’ll enjoy Christian White’s future novels just as much as I adore Harper’s.