The Child Finder is the story of a woman, Naomi, whose life calling is to locate missing children. Known simply as the Child Finder, Naomi works as a private investigator with word of her uncanny ability traveling from person to person. Like the children she is hired to find, Naomi was abducted in her childhood. As an adult she has no recollection of the events that transpired while being held captive. Her mind has blocked the trauma and she only has memory of being found by a group of migrant workers after she escaped. She remembers them driving her to the Sherriff’s office, she remembers being deposited with her kindly foster mother, and she remembers meeting her foster brother Jerome. Perpetually haunted by nightmares, Naomi is terrified of her past catching up with her, but has made it her life’s mission to save and help children like her.
We meet Naomi as she is going to meet with the Culvers for the first time. The Culvers’ daughter Madison disappeared three years prior to this meeting in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. After three long years, the Culvers are desperate to find Madison and they have turned to Naomi as their last resort. Their marriage is on the brink and they are dangerously close to giving in to despair, but they have contacted Naomi in one final attempt to find their daughter.
This is something I know: no matter how far you have run, no matter how long you have been lost, it is never too late to be found.
However, part of what make this novel unique is that readers are also introduced to Madison, the missing child. Readers witness the heartbreaking reality of Madison’s time in captivity, and the device she invents to survive. Madison creates an alter ego, whom she refers to as the Snow Girl to make her bleak reality more bearable. The Snow Girl infuses the novel with fairy tale magic, as she weaves tales about a girl named Madsion whenever she is lonely. Snow Girl is strong and brave. She learns how to communicate with her captor, and she is able to leave tiny, delicate traces of her existence that ultimately lead Naomi to her.
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld is a masterpiece. This novel is thrilling, suspenseful and intensely compelling. Denfeld’s clean, concise prose keeps the novel moving quickly. Naomi is a complex, damaged yet profoundly capable protagonist. I loved getting to know her, I admired her strength and resilience, and I enjoyed unraveling her moving story.
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If you like The Child Finder, you may also enjoy In the Woods by Tana French.