One day at the beach, Sandra Preston experiences a parent’s worst nightmare – her two-year-old daughter, Jessica, has gone missing.
The police are called, but Jessica is never found, and the police eventually conclude that Jessica has drowned. Only Sandra believes that her little girl is still alive.
Twenty years later, and the disappearance of another little girl prompts Laura – a keen but inexperienced reporter – to look at other cases of missing children, and she comes across the Preston’s story. And without really meaning to, she becomes embroiled in the case, and starts to do a little digging.
Beyond the above synopsis, I don’t want to say anything about the plot of Child Taken, as I think that it’s a novel that is best approached with as little prior knowledge as possible. What I will discuss is what makes this novel unique, to me at least, and what makes it stand out from other novels with a similar theme.
Firstly, there isn’t a significant police presence, and it’s Laura, a trainee reporter working for her local Gazette, that starts digging into the story. Whilst she’s relatively new to her job and often gets stuck with the filing, she has an incredible drive to succeed and to prove herself, and it’s this that pushes her on even when she starts to question the lengths that she has to go to for this story. The novel is told from multiple perspectives, but it was Laura’s that I found to be the most interesting, and I enjoyed the moral dilemma she found herself in as she was driven to obtain “the story” but also to get to the bottom of what happened to Jessica.
This also allows Young to explore the role of the media in the case of a missing child, which can often swing between sympathy and accusation with alarming speed. Today, cases of missing children are, quite rightly, huge stories that will dominate the national press for weeks, if not longer. But in Jessica’s case, because of the prevailing view that she must have drowned, there was little media coverage, and twenty years later, hardly anyone is aware of the story at all. To me, it seems that Laura, possibly because of her youth and inexperience, is surprisingly open to a solution that doesn’t allow for a high profile story, and I wondered whether a more seasoned reporter would have put quite so much into it, simply because of the imbalance between risk and reward.
Twenty years after the disappearance of her child, Sandra still refuses to accept that Jessica is dead. A minor proportion of the story is told directly from Sandra’s perspective, and yet, through the other characters in the novel, Young brilliantly explores how such an event might affect a person so many years after this tragic event. I found this to be a compassionate and insightful view of what it might be like to have to live with such a scenario, particularly when no one shares your view that your daughter is still alive, and that the search should continue. I don’t have children, so I can’t relate to how this would feel personally, but the portrayal of Sandra’s grief felt incredibly plausible to me.
Child Taken is an enjoyable read that offers the reader something a little different from other novels featuring a similar premise, and I’m particularly excited by the fact that it’s a debut novel – Darren Young is definitely one to watch.