Review: The Child Finder = Another Excellent Sophomore Novel

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

The Child Finder coverFormat/Source: Hardcover/Library
Published: September 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
★★★★½    Add to Goodreads button

The Child Finder focuses on the mystery of a missing child. If you stripped away the insightful prose, made the characters full of heart and heartbreak into something more generic, and ignored the histories that drive them, you’d be left with a pretty a pretty standard tale that could be the plot for an episode of Criminal Minds. But there’s so much more to this book that makes it soar beyond the usual thriller standards. This is a book worth your time and your tears.

I knew, from having read The Enchanted (review here), that The Child Finder would be a difficult read. I started reading with a small hope that there might be a more positive lean to the story – because no one hopes to read about the physical and sexual abuse of a young abducted child – but that hope was dashed less than 30 pages in. Denfeld writes with care and compassion for the victims in her story. She is neither explicit nor gratuitous. Her writing, though, even when in metaphor, hit me hard in the chest and made breathing a little more difficult. By page 60, I noted “need a lot of breaks from this one”. The Child Finder is not an easy read – Denfeld writes both eloquently and realistically, meaning The Child Finder may be too painful of read for some people. This is not a thriller you can quickly breeze through.

Madison’s story is not the only one shared in The Child Finder. The novel is peppered with small sad stories (descriptions about Naomi’s past cases) that burn for how real they read. Juan’s story is shared as the lesson that taught Naomi to “view every act, with suspicion, every witness as questionable, and every piece of possible evidence along the way as a trap” (60). Naomi suspected a man of abducting Juan, but the man caught onto her, disposed of Juan’s body, and disappeared.

Juan Aguilar was one of her early cases. His mom was an undocumented farm worker, who, weighing the risk of going to the poilce about her missing son agains the risk of deportation, chose the police – and was deported. She had told Naomi from her jail cell, where she was shackled and waiting for the deportation bus, that she had named her son Juan because the name meant “God’s gracious gift” (59).

Not least of all, Naomi’s own story is threaded throughout. At the start of the book, Naomi has no memory as to her life before she was eight years old. She ends up in the care of Mrs. Cottle, a lovely woman who raises Naomi alongside another foster child, Jerome. Mrs. Cottle fulfills a similar role as the warden in The Enchanted  – she’s a reminder that there are good people trying to good work within difficult systems. Naomi’s memories don’t stay entirely buried, setting the stage for the next book in what GoodReads calls an ‘untitled series’.

Despite all the darkness contained within this story, it is more hopeful than the last bleak book I read (The Good People, review here). Madison, through her trauma, retains at least part of herself,and Naomi begins to learn how she might heal from her own trauma.

The Bottom Line

I can’t sum up this book better than Erin Morgenstern, whose blurb reads: “Rene Denfeld has a gift for shining bright light in dark places. […] Raw and real yet wrapped in a fairy tale, as lovely and as chilling as the snow.”

Further Reading

  • Author website
  • Read an excerpt
  • Interview @ Psychology Today (this is a great interview that offers some insight into Denfeld’s experiences and how she is able to write in such a vivid and moving way)
  • Review @ Oregon Live
  • Review @ Publisher’s Weekly

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