I’m going to start this review with one word: CRIPES.
After I had listened to a short portion of The Child Finder, I reached out to Hoarder Penny. I told her that I was listening to this story with a curled lip. I told her that I didn’t like the narration. I told her that the content was disturbing. I told her that I wasn’t going to like this novel at all, and I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. But, I said, I’ll listen a little longer.
I soon started taking the long way home (I listen to audiobooks in my car). Then I found myself sitting in the parking lot at work to hear the end of another chapter. I would offer to go to the store when we needed milk (“but we only have 3/4 of a jug left!”), so I could listen to a bit more. I had to know. I had to see what the Child Finder saw. I HAD TO BE THERE WHEN THIS CHILD WAS FOUND.
Sorry – I don’t usually yell in reviews.
I typically despise stories where children are hurt. I don’t want to read about it in my down time. However, I soon realized that the (thankfully) muted details that were provided were integral to this story. It was an arc that the characters passed over together, and they became stronger with each step. Naomi, the Child Finder, and Madison, the child Naomi is searching for, are two incredibly strong female leads. They are written with breathtaking detail and unwavering insight. I felt like they had been in my life for years. I eventually learned to love these characters, but for very different reasons.
Naomi – the Child Finder: Naomi is a very damaged young woman. Now in her late 20s, Naomi has become a renowned finder of lost children. Her process of discovery is hard to describe. She manages to insert herself into the skin of the lost, and she figures things out long after the police have given up hope. When the parents of Madison Culver come to her 3 years after the disappearance of their 5-year old daughter, Naomi knows that she will either find Madison alive and in need of a great deal of healing attention, or she will find Madison’s body, which will help her parents with their needed closure.
The reason Naomi can identify with children who have vanished emerges as the novel progresses. I won’t divulge what Naomi learns about her own past. But it’s safe to say that the closer Naomi gets to finding Madison, the more she comes to grips with her own troubled past. Damaged people find damaged people. Naomi is reserved, deliberate and painfully serious. She should be. It’s hard to be jovial in this line of work. She’s also unbelievably strong, inside and out. I would never want to mess with Naomi in a dark alley. I’d lose. Kidnappers beware.
What is most touching about Naomi is how she has managed to stay so human. She loves her foster mother. She loves Jerome, the boy with whom she was raised. She has an amusing relationship with the lead detective. She gets people talking. They tell her enough to set her on a path. She seems to pluck useful tidbits out of thin air during conversations, and then effortlessly puts them to good use. She puts suspicious people at ease, and chips away at them until she gets what she needs. Naomi demands respect. She’s a formidable character, and I have a hunch that she’s about to star in a lengthy book series of finding lost children.
Madison Culver: Madison wandered a little too far into the forest while her parents were looking for a Christmas tree. She was soon discovered by “Mr. B,” who took her, and kept her hidden in his remote and dingy cabin. At five, Madison quickly learned survival skills. She immediately understood what would make Mr. B angry. She learned the behaviors she needed to exhibit in order to emerge from the cellar in the floor. She learned to trap animals. She learned to live.
By the time Naomi starts to look for Madison, the child has been with Mr. B for three years.
You wouldn’t think that there would be much left of a child after three years of captivity. But incredibly, Madison (now eight) is remarkably bright. No – she’s more than that. She’s actually cunning. She’s shrewd. She has largely forgotten her parents, and believes that Mr. B created her from snow. She knows herself to be “Snow Girl.” Snow Girl knows the limitations of her surroundings. Snow Girl knows what makes Mr. B tick. Snow Girl also creates “once upon a time” stories in her head, starring a child named Madison. Snow Girl doesn’t even realize that her imagination and creativity are keeping her afloat. We learn this from Naomi, who knows that children are more likely to survive if they insert themselves into a fantasy-based narrative. The process was fascinating.
But how will the story end?
If you tackle this novel, I might not recommend the audio version. While I certainly listened with rapt attention, I believe that reading the physical novel would have been better. While the narrator Alyssa Bresnahan did a fine job overall, I did find her voice to be a bit of a distraction. For me, her tones did not properly encapsulate the severity of some of the book’s more critical scenes. She did, however, voice Naomi with the perfect amount of restraint. That character was performed beautifully.
The Child Finder is more than a kidnapping story. It’s more than a captivity story. It’s light years ahead of the novel “Room,” which was a one-note diatribe that I absolutely detested. This novel reaches beyond that, and looks into the characters of those who steal, and those who are stolen. It focuses on the strength of Naomi and Madison, rather than the forces that seek to break them down. This novel was a pleasant surprise, and a page-burner to boot. I will be there the next time Naomi searches for a lost child. I’ll be there with bells on.
5 stars for The Child Finder.