Book review: The Nowhere Child by Christian White

Little Sammy Went is gone, and while The Nowhere Child tells us where fairly quickly - who, how, why and at what cost takes the rest of this fast-paced book to uncover.

I use the cliche 'fast-paced' on purpose because like most genre books, except for the exceptional few, the 'fast-pace' does rely on cliches to a fair degree.

Which is not to say The Nowhere Child is a poor novel. Rather it is a clever book, with more than enough periods of real tension and surprise to keep the reader turning pages (or flicking them as the case may be).

Clever because it embeds just enough themes that are deemed praiseworthy and admirable in the subjective group-think world that is publishing. (That is not a criticism of the book or publishing, just a reality in these days of thought-fear.)

Of course there is the obligatory references to reading and authors - we must worship at the the book altar of course. Being set in both Australia and the US may explain why at times Matthew Reilly came to mind and at others, John Grisham, even though the avowed authorial heroes in the book are Stephen King and Gillian Flynn.

Then there is tortured and repressed sexuality as a sympathetic theme, contrasted with the oppressor - a rigid and ridiculous religion.

If you are a Pentecostal reader you will feel harmed by the generalisations of this book, and how your faith is thrown to the lions, or the snakes as it were. To clarify - 99.9 per cent of Christians would think snake-handling churches are a travesty and aberration and yet a whole branch of Christianity is tarred with this brush in The Nowhere Child.

Perhaps the saddest miss by the author is the repeated line in the book that we need to 'resist sin to earn God's love.' There may be Christian out there that believe this, but anyone who has had more than a passing glance at the message of Jesus (the originator of Christianity) would see that God's love is unconditional, cannot be earned and rescues from sin regardless. It never condemns because, as the Biblical account shows us, he was condemned in our place.

Anyway... to be an explorative Christian reader in the early 21st Century is to have thick skin and a commitment to learning how culture reflects us back to ourselves. We may not like what we see but it may help us peel back layers to allow self-reflection and even more importantly, to better love and understand the world in which we live.

So what does all this have to do with the abduction of a two-year-old girl and the intriguing story of her fate more than two decades later? Everything really, because books are conveyors of thought, mindsets and worldviews and even 'fast-paced' thrillers are ideologically-loaded.

Christian White's The Nowhere Child won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript and White suggests in his acknowledgements, that without that recognition, 'this book would still just be a Word document on my computer'.

It's another reminder of the importance of awards in helping new authors shift the balance in their favour, in the long and tangled journey of becoming a published author. The fact that this is not really a 'literary' book but a generally successful attempt at the the psychological thriller genre, is a hopeful sign for other authors.


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