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by Christian White
Minotaur, January 2019
ISBN: 1250293715

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Kimberly Leamy, a thirty-year-old teacher of photography in a Melbourne, Australia community college, is told by a stranger, a man, that he knows that she is really Sammy Went, a toddler who disappeared from her Kentucky home almost three decades ago. Kim is not quick to believe him, but her disbelief is shaken when he produces what appears to be irrefutable DNA evidence. Most particularly, she cannot believe that the mother, now dead of cancer, who raised her lovingly, could possibly have been a kidnapper. In the end, to settle matters, she travels to Kentucky, to a town called Manson, where she hopes to find the truth.

The novel unfolds in a series of alternating "then" and "now" chapters, most of which are set in Manson.

The chapter describing past events are third person narration, the "now" chapters, narrated directly by Kim. In Kentucky, she finds that the truth will not be easy to uncover. She also finds a town populated by familiar tropes - obese Americans, bad beer, open spaces, born-again Christians, some of whom reach religious ecstasy by handling snakes that sometimes bite them. Her new family was brought up in the cult of The Light Within, which has quite a collection of fearsome vipers.

The mystery at the heart of the book is who was responsible for Sammy/Kim being abducted and winding up in Australia. But the real substance seems to concern the questions of family and identity and what happens when you find out you are not who you thought you were. Certainly those are more meaty than the question of who did what and why. Sadly, White's treatment of them remains largely on the surface.

Part of the problem may arise from the Australian author's failure to exploit any contrasts between Kim's country of birth and the one in which she was raised. (I doubt many Australian snake-handling cultists would survive long enough to form a church of the size of the one in Manson.) But Kim rarely if ever refers to any cultural shock she may be experiencing as she investigates the mysteries of her origin. She might as well have been taken off to, say, Missoula, Montana, as Melbourne, Australia for all she registers. Perhaps this occurs simply because White's author's note suggests that his only experience of the United States was a boyhood visit that comprised a road trip down the country's east coast.

This is Christian White's first novel, but he is an experienced screenwriter and he manages the details of plot and pacing very well indeed. He certainly knows how to construct a harrowing climactic scene. As a result, THE NOWHERE CHILD is an entertaining, if not especially challenging, read.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, March 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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