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Review: ‘Nowhere Child’ is Christian White’s stunning debut

This cover image released by Minotaur shows "The Nowhere Child," a novel by Christian White. (Minotaur via AP)

“The Nowhere Child: a Novel” (Minotaur), by Christian White

A young woman’s fond memories of her happy childhood and loving parents are turned upside down when she learns she may have been kidnapped more than 28 years ago in “The Nowhere Child,” a stunning debut by Christian White.

The perceptive plot of “The Nowhere Child” works well as a story about the extremes that one will go to protect loved ones as well as a tale about what makes a family. White skillfully creates a credible story filled with surprises and realistic characters worth caring about.

Kim Leamy has a quiet life teaching photography at a school in Melbourne, Australia. Her loving mother, Carol, recently died but she has a solid relationship with her supportive stepfather, Dean. While she isn’t as close to her half-sister Amy, she knows she can always count on her.

Kim’s life changes when she is approached by an American, James Finn, who tells her that she may be Sammy Went, who was kidnapped from her home in Kentucky when she was 2. Kim doesn’t believe him. She has her birth certificate and her family has always lived in Australia.

Not only does James have reams of paperwork, he also has a DNA sample that he surreptitiously took from her that definitely proves that Kim is Sammy, and that he is her brother. Kim finds it hard to believe that the warm, happy home in which she was raised was the result of a crime. She agrees to go to Kentucky with James to find out what could have happened.

White seamlessly moves “The Nowhere Child” from the present, as Kim tries to piece together a lifetime of lies, back to the incidents 28 years ago that may have led to an abduction.

White shows life in a small Kentucky town, the Went family divided by religious fanaticism and a spiritual leader who encourages snake handling without deriding small towns or religion. Despite the evidence that James presents, suspense mounts as the plot explores the decades-old secrets that the Went family held close.

The appealing Kim’s confusion over whether to doubt her childhood or accept this new dysfunctional family adds to the tension in “The Nowhere Child.”

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