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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Review of THE CHILD FINDER by Rene Denfeld

3 Stars
Naomi devotes her life to finding missing children.  Her latest case involves Madison Culver who went missing three years earlier.  Naomi’s search is focused on the Skookum National Forest in Oregon where 5-year-old Madison wandered away from her family during a Christmas tree hunt.  Naomi is not just searching for a lost girl; she is also looking for her past.  She herself was an abducted child though she has no memories from before her escape. 

There is not much suspense because we are given Madison’s point of view.  She is being held by a man whom she just calls Mr. B.  She reinvents herself as the Snow Girl from a favourite fairy tale.  When Naomi thinks about abducted children, she reflects that “the ones who did the best in the long run made a safe place inside their very own minds.  Sometimes they even pretended they were someone else.  Naomi didn’t believe in resilience.  She believed in imagination.”  It does not take a genius to figure out Madison’s fate.  It is also very obvious who Mr. B actually is.  There is a final scene where danger is used to create suspense, but, again, the outcome is predictable.

The author can be commended for not treating child victimization and abuse as entertainment.  References to Madison’s treatment are indirect; there is no graphic, gratuitous violence.  Instead, we have oblique but telling statements:  “Mr. B’s hands were gentle – when he was setting the traps” and “He was wise and kind when he wasn’t angry with her.”  Denfeld also manages to show compassion for Mr. B.  As details of his past are revealed, the reader cannot but feel some sympathy and understanding for a damaged person.  Mr. B is not to be seen as totally evil:  “Madison didn’t understand that people can be good and bad. . . . She didn’t know that when you have that kind of bad inside you, it is not like your goodness is hiding it.  It is more like the badness and the goodness are all mixed together.”

I did not find Naomi a character with whom I could connect though her tenacity is admirable.  She is relentless in her investigations, but her obsession means that she has few friends and remains distant with her foster family.  She doesn’t even spend time with her foster mother when she is dying; Naomi just leaves her foster brother to look after the woman who adopted her!  She is even warned, “’We all need a sense of purpose . . . Be careful the purpose doesn’t destroy you.’”  Naomi is close to very few people, but all three men in her life fall in love with her?!

There are touches of sentimentality that detract from the quality of the writing.  One of Naomi’s male admirers feels rejected “But he wasn’t about to give up.  His heart told him so.”  There are statements like, “Her entire life she had been running from terrifying shadows she could no longer see – and in escape she ran straight into life. ”  And Naomi is seen as “the wind traveling over the field, always searching, never stopping, and never knowing that true piece is when you curl around one little piece of something.  One little fern.  One little frond.  One person to love.”

The message is one of hope.  Though we live in a fragmented world where “People had a way of appearing and disappearing in one another’s lives” and though “America was an iceberg shattered into a billion fragments, and on each stood a person, rotating like an ice floe in a storm,” there is hope because “No matter how far you have run, no matter how long you have been lost, it is never too late to be found.”

I can’t believe the number of 5-star reviews this book has received.  In my view, it is just average.