The Nowhere Child

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Jun 2018

Member Reviews

I've had this book sitting on my Kindle for some months now, courtesy NetGalley, and now it has been chosen by our book group for our monthly read.

Kim Leamy is approached by someone who has been searching for his lost sister for years. He has scanned thousands of online images looking for similarities to an artist's impression of what his sister would look like nearly three decades after her disappearance. But he is American and Kim has a hard job thinking that the woman who brought her up would have been a kidnapper.

However he tells her that a DNA test he has had taken by a Melbourne lab says there is a 98.5% probability that she is is sister. When she approaches her father it is obvious to Kim that there is some truth in what the American is telling her, that her father knows, and she decides to go to America to find out the truth for herself.

A well constructed interesting story, with good mystery elements.
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Kim Leamy is a photography teacher from Melbourne, still mourning the death of her mother, when she is approached by an American man, Stuart. He tells her that when his sister Sammy was two she went missing from his home town of Manson, Kentucky, and, after years of searching, he believes Kim is Sammy.
I thought the mystery would be whether or not Stuart was correct but it’s pretty clear early on that he is and, instead, the mystery is just who took Sammy and how she ended up in Australia.

We soon find out there’s an endless list of suspects. Everyone in Manson, it seems, has a secret. For starters, Kim’s natural American family members are involved with a fundamental religious sect who use snakes as part of their church services. And there’s also the possibility that Kim’s own beloved (Australian – obviously adoptive) mother could be the kidnapper, a thought that breaks Kim’s heart.
The plot moves along, its tension building gradually, told in alternating chapters between the Kim’s first person point of view in the present and multiple characters’ third person in the past.

This is Christian White’s debut novel but he has written some screenplays and his style made it very easy for me to visualise the book on the big screen.

The otherworldly atmosphere of the American setting is great. A fundamentalist religion is completely foreign to most Australians and I thought their crazy was used with just the right touch. There was also a nice balance between family drama and the crime/mystery story lines. Every character is written with a deft hand and all of them seemed too shockingly real.

From about the 75% mark, I couldn’t put the book down. I couldn’t wait to find out what had happened to Sammy and how Kim would cope with that knowledge in the present. White cleverly managed to add a couple of plot twists towards the end. I did not see them coming — at all.

I highly recommend The Nowhere Child and can’t wait for more from Christian White.

5 out of 5
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A debut novel by a hometown bloke, well done I was riveted. This is a page turning, hands shaking, OMG I didn't see that coming kind of story. The two timelines across two continents blending flawlessly. 
A fast paced, suspense with great characters,  I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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“‘You know what I see when I think about the past?’ he said. 
‘A deep, vast ocean. Memories are the fish, I suppose. When I’m wading in the shallows I can reach in and pull one out if I want to. I can hold the memory in my hands. . . 

‘But the deeper you go, the darker the water becomes. . . 

Those fish belong out there, in the deep part. They’re … sharks, Kimmy. Sharks and monsters.’”

This debut won the Victorian (Australia) Premier’s Award for an unpublished manuscript, and I can certainly see why. It’s a great read! I read a preview copy that still had some typos and glitches, so I can’t be certain the quotations I’ve chosen made it to the final copy, but I hope so (because I liked them).

The book blurb explains that Aussie Kim is told by a young American accountant that she is really his long-lost sister, Sammy Went, who disappeared from their American family 30 years ago. She can’t believe it (well, would you?) and she can’t imagine her mother doing such a thing. Mum died a few years ago, and she is hesitant to raise the question with her still-grieving stepdad, Dean. 

But the “brother” says he has DNA proof. So she confides in her half-sister, Amy, who is distraught at the idea, because the girls are very close. Amy tactlessly drops Sammy Went's name in front of Dean, and he nearly collapses. Kim is stunned.

“I froze when I noticed Dean’s face, tight and pale. He was squeezing the hell out of his napkin, so hard his knuckles had turned white. I was hit with a jarring clarity: He knows. 

He had heard the name before. Maybe not for a while, maybe not for years, but all that time he had been waiting to hear it again. She told him. She told him and she didn’t tell me.”

That is when Dean compares memories to fish, which I quoted here at the beginning.

Kim and Amy are very close and both adore Dean, so Kim feels guilty about leaving them, but there’s no way she can let this go unresolved. 

The story follows her to the U.S. and chapters alternate between THEN and NOW, which many books seem to do these days. I have to say, White has done it better than most. I found it very clear and easy to follow – I just wanted to find out what happened!

It is not a simple who-dunnit, as there is a relatively complex group of characters in the American story – the usual family, neighbours, school friends, of course. But then there’s a church-sect-cult called The Light Within to which Sammy Went’s mother belonged. Their claim to fame is that they walk around barefoot and play with rattlesnakes and copperheads and everything poisonous – and I mean play. Weird stuff!

When Sammy first disappeared, one of the young men searching noitices that the flyer being handed out about her has the Copy Hut logo on it. Never miss a chance to advertise!

“And while he was being cynical, the idea of handing out photos of Sammy to search volunteers seemed morbidly redundant. Was there more than one missing child out there? He imagined one of the volunteers moving aside a fallen tree branch to find a shivering, scared little girl underneath. The volunteer might then hold up the Copy Hut photo of Sammy, compare it to the little girl on the forest floor and call out, False alarm, this one’s not her.”

When Kim goes to Sammy’s home, she tries to find things that might trigger a memory or two. But as the brother explains, there is something called Decay Theory, where when you haven’t retrieved a memory for a very long time, the slender thread that you use to pull it to the surface may have decayed. 

She goes into the woods near Sammy’s house where the search took place, and it feels foreign. She was a child who loved the Australian bush.

“This place wasn’t the bush; it was the forest. Forests were dangerous places from fairytales, where children were abandoned by their parents and captured by witches.”

Of course, the Australian bush has poisonous everything, too, but the rattlers and such in this remind me more of Indiana Jones’s encounter with snakes than with anything I’ve run across (and I have) in the great Aussie outdoors.

I will leave you with that cheery thought. A great debut and the first of many books, I hope!

Thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Australia – Affirm Press for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted (so quotes may have changed – but you’ll get the idea of how he writes).
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Imagine being in your late 20s, having grown up in Melbourne Australia, to be approached by a total stranger and told that you are actually Sammy Went. A girl who disappeared from her home in Kentucky in the US when she was just 2 years old.
This is what happens to Kim and it is quite the way to start a book!
We follow Kim as she approaches her family to try and get answers, and then ends up flying to Kentucky to see if there is any truth to this. And if so... Then what does that mean? Her parents abducted her?

This is a fast paced suspense novel, and it was hard to stop reading. There was no unnecessary drawing out of a storyline, or red-herrings, but I was still left guessing until the end as to what really happened to Sammy Went. 
There are a few conveniences taken by the author in giving us that final explanation, but I had such a great time I really didn't mind.
Fabulous debut novel and I look forward to reading more from Christian White.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Kimberley Leamy is an Australian photography teacher whose everyday life is interrupted when a random stranger—an American—introduces himself and tells her he believes she is actually someone else. 

He believes Kim is actually Sammy Went, who was abducted from Manson, Kentucky, twenty-eight years earlier.

It's a great opening scene.

The story then flips back to Manson, Kentucky, in 1990, to days before two-year-old Sammy Went was kidnapped. We meet her family—her fundamentalist Christian mother, her unbelieving father, her rebellious older sister, her inquisitive older brother. It's a world where "fundamentalist" is a dirty word, because they're the extreme kind of Christian, snake handling and all.

(No, The Nowhere Child isn't Christian fiction, despite having a church setting.)

We find out pretty early on that Kimberley is Sammy Went, but that is only the beginning of the mystery. How did a two-year-old American girl end up in Melbourne, Australia, with no memories of her earlier life? Who kidnapped her? Why? How?

The story alternates between Kimberley's present journey to find her past, and the past story. It's strong suspense, where nothing is as it seems. The characters unfold scene by scene,

The writing is generally strong (some of the dialogue tags annoyed me, but that's my only significant complaint). Kimberley's story is told in first person, while the past story is told in third person from the viewpoints of various different characters. It's an interesting technique, but one which works well in the split timeline structure.

The Nowhere Child is a great example of a split timeline story. 

The two stories are closely intertwinned and the past story influences and impacts on the present until we reach a climax where all the questions are answered. The ending was unpredictable, but it fit.

Thanks to Affirm Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.
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Christian White’s debut, The Nowhere Child, is a great thriller. He writes the main character Kimberley in the first person, and captures her very well, which not all men can do. She is thirty when she is approached and told she may have been abducted when she was two-years-old, and Stuart, the man telling her this, could be her older brother. This, understandably, sends her into turmoil. To complicate matters her mother died four years before, and she has a step-father and half-sister.
She decides to leave her home in Melbourne and head to the United States where she is told she was born and spent her first two years, to try and find out if there is any truth behind Stuart’s claims. We go along for the ride and meet some of the people that she could be related to, from her point of view, and there are flashbacks told in the third person, that fill in the gaps of this family and the church they were involved in.
White tackles many themes with skill – what makes a family, cults, sibling rivalry, challenges for those in lower socio-economic brackets, attitudes towards homosexuality, and racism, all woven seamlessly in a great story. He shows great sensitivity and empathy for all of the characters, with a lack of judgement, revealing their histories slowly to demonstrate why they have done the things they have, and become the people they are. I look forward to reading more from this author.
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While this book held a lot of promise, I just fell short of delivering it to me. The premise was very enticing. A girl living in Melbourne is approached by an American with a very strange theory. He claims she is his long lost sister who went missing from their southern US home when she was only two years old. And here begins a story of mystery and intrigue, leading you from the possibility of a 'regular' child abduction, to the involvement of a strange, snake-loving cult. Family secrets and dysfunction abounds. 

I won't give away any spoilers. Just because I didn't love this book doesn't mean it isn't a good book. The thing that I really didn't like is the short chapters alternating between the 1980s and today. I found that made the story quite disjointed and hard to follow. Unfortunately, that was enough to bring it down from a 4 star for me.

*I'd like to thank Netgalley for this ARC in return for an honest review.
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What a compelling read. I really enjoyed this story. The alternating timelines made it interesting and kept me reading. As did the mystery surrounding the missing child. I liked that I couldn't see the twists coming. Unique and original. This is a great debut read for mystery lovers.
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A fast-paced, absorbing thriller peopled with imperfect and likeable characters. The setting in small-town America (complete with fundamentalist religious snake-handlers) gives the story a unique point of difference. A great read from start to finish.
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I absolutely loved The Nowhere Child. This story kept me on the edge of my chair from the first page. Author Christian White has skilfully interwoven two timelines, one present day and the other 28 years earlier as the story behind the mysterious disappearance of two year-old Sammy Went is slowly revealed. There are twists and turns throughout the book so you never really know what to expect and whenever a clue is dropped onto the page it seems both perfectly logical and yet a complete surprise. The plot is beautifully paced with lovely little hooks throughout. I struggled to stop reading even when I different was falling asleep mid-sentence. This is one book for my keeper shelf and one author to look out for in the future..
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The missing child genre never seems to lose its pull, but giving the setting of this thriller over two time periods and two countries this one is different, and it has a great twist at the end. Another excellent Australian debut novelist who will surely go far, fast!
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Wow! I could not put this book down. I loved the characters and the story. I loved how each chapter alternated between the present and the past cleverly keeping you hanging and wanting to read more. This book is screaming to be made into a movie! Excellent read.

Further review...
Twenty eight year old Kim Leamy's world is turned upside down when a stranger approaches her claiming she was abducted as a two year old. The claims are initially easily dismissed - it seems absurd that she was abducted from America and taken half way around the world to Australia without ever knowing before now. But the one true person who has all the answers - her mother, passed away years ago. There are still unanswered questions from Kim's childhood which continue to niggle at her and the only way to find the answers once and for all is to travel back to Kentucky to find the truth. From here the plot thickens and takes an unexpected twist turning this book into an engaging thriller.

Wow! I could not put this book down. I loved the characters and the story line. I enjoyed how each chapter alternated between the present and the past cleverly keeping you hanging and wanting to read more. It's no wonder this book has already won a literary prize. This book is screaming to be made into a movie! A great read.
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Enjoyable mystery, although too many psychopaths for me . I enjoyed the small-town American setting, we also spend a bit of time in Melbourne. I thought it dealt well with what was happening in Kim's mind while she is trying to find out the truth of what happened.

I would have liked to explore Emma's story more after Sammy's disappearance, and for Molly to be more than a caricature. There was potential for that "Then", but not "Now". Jack's story line just seems to be there as a plot device. The who becomes obvious about 2/3 of the way through, but you are still left with the why, which makes enjoyable reading. 3.5 stars.
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Book blurb...
‘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 in Melbourne, Kim Leamy is approached by a stranger investigating the disappearance of a little girl from her Kentucky home twenty-eight years earlier. He believes Kim is that girl.
At first she brushes it off, but when Kim scratches the surface of her family history 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 of Sammy’s disappearance unravels and the town’s secrets are revealed, this superb novel builds towards an electrifying 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.

My thoughts…
The Nowhere Child is a remarkable debut novel written by Christian White, an Australian author new to me and the plot had me from the beginning.
Skilfully plotted, this is a true page turner that is complex and builds to an ending I did not see coming.
The main character, Kim, is gutsy and her drive to discover the truth was admirable. I was with her on the entire journey.
Structured as alternate time periods, the author rewards readers with carefully-place clues to keep them intrigued until the end. 
A book for the TBR pile for sure.
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What would you do if you discovered your entire life was a lie?

That's the question Kim Leamy has to face when she's approached by a man suggesting she might actually be Sammy Went, a little girl who went missing twenty-eight years ago in Manson, Kentucky.

Journeying from her home in Australia to the US in a pilgrimage to discover the truth, Kim discovers sometimes, some secrets are better not uncovered.

Chapters in the story alternate between past and present, or Now and Then as they are referred to. While Kim is always the narrator in the present, the past narrator changes between characters, from Sammy's father Jack to the sheriff investigating the case, Jack's lover and occasional others with significant parts in the story to tell.

I really enjoyed this investigative thriller. There were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing right until the end, and all the present day narrative being from Kim's point of view kept it from getting to confusing as the other players slowly revealed their parts in Sammy's story. I'd never heard of fundamentalist Pentecostal churches worshipping with venomous snakes before and was absolutely fascinated.

This is the author's first novel, but he is an experienced screenplay writer and I'd love to see this adapted for film or television, as I'm sure it would make riveting viewing. It's certainly a solid five star read.
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This was such an original story! Finally! I've been waiting for a book to grab me and this one certainly did that. 

The waiting to find out what happened to Sammy was bittersweet, i just wanted to rush through and find out but also wanted to keep going!

Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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The Nowhere Child, the debut novel of Christian White, is a captivating tale of tension and trauma. In the opening pages, Kim, a 30 year old photography teacher in Melbourne, is sitting in the cafeteria during her meal break when a stranger approaches and asks if he can join her. He shows her a photograph of a young girl, Sammy Went, who went missing from her home in Manson, Kentucky, three days after her second birthday. He believes that Kim is Sammy Went.

Kim’s first reaction is disbelief. All her memories are based in Australia with her family: her younger half sister, Amy, her recently deceased mother and her stepfather Dean. As she looks through the meticulous collation of family photographs with Amy, she discovers that there is no record of their lives before Kim’s third birthday, except for a single shot of her as a two year old in a swimming pool. There is also an uncanny resemblance between her two-year old self and Sammy Went.

The more Kim digs, the more she doubts her family history. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, she travels to Manson, Kentucky. As she meets members of the West family and learns about the fanatical cult that they were associated with, she unleashes a host of dark secrets from the past.

A powerful image within the book is based on decay theory, which suggests that the neurochemical memory trace that is linked to a piece of information fades over time. In The Nowhere Child, White describes the neurochemical trace as ‘a big red thread’, which can be pulled on to recall the memory. He continues to explain how ‘when a particular memory isn’t retrieved over a long enough time period, the thread fades and weakens, and eventually (snaps)’. In the story, Kim keeps trying to remember the past, and repeatedly imagines her two-year old self pulling on a red thread and reeling it in like an empty fishing line. It drives her to keep digging to discover what happened to her as a child and to face the trauma that she has suppressed. 

The Nowhere Child is written in alternating viewpoint. The main thread is the third person account of Kim’s search. This is interspersed with accounts of events around the time of the disappearance of Sammy West. The past events are from the perspective of a variety of key players, recorded chronological order. This adds detail to the information Kim is uncovering, and increases the tension. The story unfolds in a very believable but unpredictable fashion, and the reader is kept guessing until the final chapters.
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3.5 **** This was a really interesting premise for a story, the end had a twist I definitely was not expecting. The only thing I really didn't like was how quickly Kim decided to look into what Stuart, a complete stranger had told her and then accept it, I found that a bit far fetched. Besides that though, I enjoyed the dual timelines, I think I preferred the 'then' timeline slightly more as I was so interested to find out what happened. I recommend this book if you enjoy a good crime/mystery. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for a copy in return for an honest review.
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This is an incredible psychological thriller that moves between two time periods of Now (2018) and Then (1990) and between USA and Australia. A two year old girl, Sammy Went, disappears in a small town called Manson, Kentucky and twenty-eight years later her brother Stuart is in Melbourne, Australia confronting Kim who he claims is that missing child.

What unfolds is spell binding and the author creates an atmosphere of suspense and tension. With twists and turns happening all through the story, the ending leaves you mesmerised  as it was so unpredictable  - so WOW!! 

With well developed characters, an intriguing story line and a easy to read writing style this comes in the highly recommended class and especially as this is a debut novel for the author Christian White from Victoria, Australia.

Thank you to Netgalley and publisher Hachette Australia for an ARC ebook to read and review.
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