All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Nowhere Child by Christian White

on June 28, 2018

The Nowhere Child 
Christian White
Affirm Press
2018, 306p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘Her name is Sammy Went. This photo was taken on her second birthday. Three days later she was gone.’

On a break between teaching photography classes, Kim Leamy is approached by a stranger investigating the disappearance of a little girl from her Kentucky home twenty-eight years earlier. He believes she is that girl.

At first Kim brushes it off, but when she scratches the surface of her family background in Australia, questions arise that aren’t easily answered. To find the truth, she must travel to Sammy’s home of Manson, Kentucky, and into a dark past. As the mystery unravels and the town’s secrets are revealed, this superb novel builds towards a tense, terrifying, and entirely unexpected climax.

Inspired by Gillian Flynn’s frenetic suspense and Stephen King’s masterful world-building, The Nowhere Child is a combustible tale of trauma, cult, conspiracy and memory. It is the remarkable debut of Christian White, an exhilarating new Australian talent attracting worldwide attention.

This book was incredible.

The Nowhere Child is the 2017 Victorian Premier’s award winner for an unpublished manuscript. Previous winners of this award have become very successful bestsellers and this one has every chance of doing the same. It’s so compelling tapping into a fascination with unsolved mysteries and cold cases and combining that with a literary style.

The book is split into two timelines. The first is the present day where Kim Leamy, a thirty year old woman living and working in Melbourne is approached by a complete stranger and tells her that he believes she is Sammy Went, who went missing as a 2yo in rural America some 28 years ago. The book also delves back in time to during Sammy’s disappearance, revolving around the day or two leading up to it and then the aftermath. When the stranger first approaches Kim, it’s easy for the reader to dismiss his claims, just as she does. After all, who would expect that a woman on the other side of the world would be some long lost child from rural America? If what she’s being told is true then Kim would have to question everything she’s ever known about herself, about her identity and also about her mother.

But faced with some evidence and a few cryptic comments from her stepfather, Kim needs to find out the truth and so the story moves across the ocean to America and the isolated town where the Went family lived. This is a really intriguing mix of small town prejudice and secrets, a powerful religious sect and the mystery of how could a little girl just vanish into thin air? The police had no leads, there was never a body and nobody saw anything. Sammy simply was there….and then she wasn’t. And for her family, nothing was ever the same again.

This book was addictive. It tapped into one of my worst fears – that something would happen to one of my children like this. I remember when William Tyrell disappeared like it was yesterday. He’s the same age as my youngest son and it happened close to where my parents live just before we were about to visit them. Nothing stirs the population quite so much like a missing child. Sammy Went goes missing prior to the internet’s existence but it seems that everyone has a theory but nothing to support any of it. Was it her mother who didn’t seem to be coping after her birth? Was it her father, who definitely seems to have something to hide and a vaguest of alibis? Was it an opportunist who saw a chance to snatch a tiny girl for their own satisfaction? And if Sammy Went is now Kim Leamy, how on earth did she end up in Melbourne, Australia?

This book just gives you so many questions as you get further into it. White takes the time to flesh out the characters of Sammy’s family nicely in the flashbacks, showcasing snapshots into the marriage of her parents and the struggle within the family where one member was deeply into religion and the others were not. I’ve not heard much about the religious groups that use snake handling as part of their church services but I did a bit of reading after I finished this book to add to what had been included here. And to be honest, the rattlers weren’t the creepiest part of the church in this book. Christian White does a fantastic job of really amping up the tension surrounding the practices and devotions of the church that Sammy’s parents are both involved and not involved in.

I was hooked on this story from the very first page and I think it’s one of my favourite books of the year so far. It kept me guessing the whole way through, about so many different facets of the story. I really love the writing, which is so evocative. This whole book has the most amazing atmosphere, I’ve never been to America and but I felt like I was right there, a part of this community when Sammy Went disappeared.

Highly recommend this one.

9/10

Book #109 of 2018

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6 responses to “Review: The Nowhere Child by Christian White

  1. This one sounds incredible.

  2. Greg Hill says:

    Wow, this sounds intense and a little disturbing. I’m really curious to see what she finds out now, and if she’s really Sammy!

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