Kim is a college lecturer having an ordinary day preparing for class when she is approached in a café by a man who says that he believes she is his sister, Sammy, who disappeared as a toddler in the 1990s. Kim lives in Australia, and had a happily uneventful childhood with her mother, sister and stepfather. Stuart and his family are from Kentucky.
It soon becomes clear that Kim is Sammy. The Nowhere Child is about how Kim comes to terms with the news, and the mystery of how she ended up on another continent. She agrees to travel to the US with Stuart and meet her birth family.
The narrative follows two timelines, Kim’s present and her family’s story in the period immediately before and after Sammy’s disappearance.
I thought the story of Sammy’s disappearance and her family’s reaction was well done, especially the inner conflicts of the family. Her father has left a fundamentalist religious community which includes snake handling in its rituals but is still struggling to come to terms with his own beliefs. Conversely, his wife has converted and become a devout follower of the church. As the parents become increasingly estranged, Sammy’s adolescent sister is trying to make sense of it all.
I was less sure of the present-day story. Events don’t move at the pace you would expect. Kim and Stuart decide to take a road trip to see the various members of their birth family (without even phoning ahead!) apparently not considering that the news will travel faster than they will. The media do cover the story, but doesn’t intrude. A local police officer asks Kim to meet him for coffee and a chat at her convenience. Surely they would be subject to round-the-clock media attention and the scrutiny of the FBI?
Kim is a photographer so you would expect her to have an intense visual awareness, but in her narrative I didn’t get much sense of curiosity about the unfamiliar world she finds herself in, or sensitivity to what she perceives.
The ending for me also felt oddly muted. Once Kim learns the truth, it upends everything she understood about her life to date, but her response is to give a philosophical shrug and look to the future.
This is worth a look if you like good pace and plot but for me the author didn’t quite follow through on the implications of the premise.
I received a copy of The Nowhere Child from the publisher via Netgalley.
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