All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Way Back by Kylie Ladd

on August 2, 2017

The Way Back
Kylie Ladd
Allen & Unwin
2017, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

All she wanted was to escape. But why does she still feel trapped. A gripping psychological drama by the author of Mothers and Daughters and Into My Arms.

Charlie Johnson is 13 and in her first year of high school. She loves her family, netball and Liam, the cute guy who sits next to her in Science – but most of all she loves horses and horse-riding. Charlie’s parents have leased her a horse, Tic Tac, from the local pony club, but one day they go out for a ride in the national park and only Tic Tac returns…

Four months later, long after the police and the SES have called off the search, Charlie is found wandering injured and filthy, miles from where she was last seen. Her family rejoice in her return, but can anyone truly recover from what Charlie’s been through? When a life has been shattered, how do you put the pieces back together? 

I’ve read a lot of police procedurals and psychological thriller/suspense novels about the race to save someone from an abductor or a vicious serial killer. This isn’t one of those sorts of books.

Instead this book is more focused on the ‘after’ – the what happens after a young teenager is taken against her will and held captive for almost four months in a remote area of a national park by a reclusive and troubled man. That Charlie would return isn’t a question when the reader picks up this book (unless you don’t read blurbs, but in that case you’re probably not reading reviews either) but it’s more how she will return….mentally. How will she cope with what has happened and be able to move on? How will her parents and brother deal with what happened to her while she was taken and the resulting media frenzy that always accompanies such a thing.

Charlie is a horse-mad teenager who spends most of her free time at the stables where she leases a pony named Tic Tac. She’s just started high school and is struggling through the newness of that, of being a high schooler and the negotiating of new friendships, boys, etc. Charlie is a really strong character, she never stops fighting, despite the fact that she is the one in the position of victim, of vulnerability, of relying on someone else who is keeping her captive for the very basics to keep her alive. Still though, she is thinking, trying, planning even as she’s being beaten down and trapped and starved. She backs herself time and time again which for a 13 year old girl was amazingly brave.

Charlie’s parents experience an utter nightmare and the ways in which they cope with her disappearance (or the ways in which they don’t cope, I suppose) were quite fascinating to read about. Charlie’s dad is a fireman, a man of action and he never stops. He spends hours searching, making posters, just constantly doing things in order to get through the days where she’s missing. I found it really easy to put myself in their place, to examine what I would do in such a situation. To be honest I don’t think I’d be the active, always doing things type, always certain that there was still hope. I’d probably the one that fell apart but I guess that would work in my favour, as this book bitingly observes the Australian public like their women openly messily grieving, sobbing in public on television and looking like shit. No calm Lindy Chamberlain or even Rosie Batty types thanks – that makes people uncomfortable because they’re not doing grief “right”.

The role of the media in this book deserves a mention. The media can be a useful tool in a missing persons case in getting the word out to a huge number of people. In the current climate, social media and the immediacy of the 24/7 news cycle means that precious little time is wasted. Photos can be circulated state wide in moments and everyone is walking around looking at twitter or facebook – you don’t even have to be near a televison or watching the news. But the media is very much a double sided sword because they can also be incredibly invasive and unkind in some of the things that go to print, especially when they can’t get their hands on an exclusive story. Some of the media-related things that occur in this story are horrible – psychologically damaging to someone already psychologically damaged. It’s a frustrating element that I think people might not really think about – yes the person is home. Life can go back to “normal”….but it can’t. Because there are so many things that are preventing it from going back to normal and just one of those things are the media packs camped out on the lawns/at the front doors and the stories appearing in various glossies about “What Really Happened!” except they don’t really know what really happened and mostly what’s inside will be whatever some “source close to the family” made up that day. This book is such a thoughtful examination of the after (the title after all is, The Way Back) and it made me think about how detrimental it all must be to continue seeing versions of what happened, some of which bear little or no resemblance to the truth, everywhere you go for people who go through things like what Charlie and her family did. And it’s not just limited to abductions or cases where children are missing but anything really newsworthy. It makes it even harder to return to some sort of ‘normal life’.

I really enjoyed the characterisation in this – Charlie and her more introverted older brother Dan, their mother Rachael who balances hovering somewhat protectively with a full time job and the fireman/stay at home father Matt who is less concerned about homework and asking how things are going. The relationships were intimate but also realistic: the comfortable marriage not without its issues, the breakdowns, the love, the grief. All of the emotions were so well nuanced and made it so easy to connect with both the people and their stories.

Another clever, amazingly well written book from Kylie Ladd examining the intricate thought processes during an unthinkable event from every angle surrounding it.


Book #130 of 2017

The Way Back is book #42 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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