Book Review: “The Nowhere Child” by Christian White (@AffirmPress @EasternRegional)

The Nowhere Child (Affirm Press, 2018) by Christian White

With Melbourne-based author Christian White’s third book recently released, now is a good time to review his debut novel The Nowhere Child (2019), which won the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.

The novel’s protagonist, Kim, is approached by a stranger who is investigating the disappearance of a two-year-old girl named Sammy from her home in Kentucky some 28 years earlier. He believes Kim is that girl.

When Kim starts doubting her own identity, she realises some questions within her family have never been answered. To find out the truth, we travel with her from Melbourne to Manson, a small, strange town in Kentucky where a cult called the Church of the Light Within is based.

As the mystery of Sammy’s disappearance unravels, we delve into the dark secrets that each of her family members holds. White as the storyteller skilfully switches from one perspective to the next, exploring and exposing the treacherous past of Sammy’s parents, sister and brother.

Even the “minor” characters have stories to tell, including the town sheriff, the neighbouring Eckles family, and the leaders of the so-called Light Withiners. Each piece of the puzzle leads to the next, until our grasp of the whole picture of a tragedy becomes crystal clear.

Meanwhile, in the process of reconciling the facts about her Australian mum and American mom, Kim realises she can lose her life – not just the life that she knows and owns as a beloved daughter and sister, but she can die, with her corpse never to be found.

The Nowhere Child is an example of well-constructed suspense that all readers would find enjoyable, including and especially those who enjoy Stephen King’s books. Indeed, White describes himself as being passionate for true crime podcasts, King and “anything to do with Bigfoot”.

In a recent interview, White explained that the writing of the novel was also influenced by Gillian Flynn, who became a household name after the film adaption of her 2012 book Gone Girl was released and won multiple awards in 2014.

While some writing techniques could be learned and developed, White’s debut novel demonstrates his talented skills in handling a wide range of characters with balance and tactfulness while steadily and gracefully building up a story to its climax. Such a task is difficult but not impossible, and very few debut authors could put it through.

Another challenge is to introduce and successfully integrate at least one new character midway through a story. It is an unusual decision that any author would take caution to make, because every word in every page of a book should count and be accounted for.

But White did it in The Nowhere Child, relatively seamlessly. More importantly, although the novel’s “crunch” is slightly predictable, the delivery of all necessary clues to the final puzzle is still beautifully done.

This reviewer would happily look forward to reviewing White’s second novel The Wife and the Widow (2020) and the most recent one, The Wild Place (2021).

Note: This book review was originally published under the title “The Nowhere Child: A tale about secrets” by Ranges Trader Star Mail, November 30, 2021, P.10.

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