First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Frances Vick, and Bookouture for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.
In her follow-up novel, Frances Vick tackles some of the most troublesome areas of a well-organized society, the protection of the child. In her years as a teacher, Claire Penny has seen many children pass through the halls of her school. Some good experiences mix alongside those that are less than enlightening, but when it comes to young Lorna Bell, something deep inside begins to call out to Claire, even if it is hard to pinpoint the precise concern. After seeing young Lorna on the playground, isolated from the other children, Claire develops a particular curiosity that develops into a caring interest. Soon thereafter, Lorna finds herself in small bouts of trouble, be it teasing or stealing or roughhousing on the playground, which brings in a young mother, Nikki, to handle her daughter’s troubles. What follows are signs of continued alarm to Claire, but no one else will heed her requests to follow-up with the authorities. Claire learns of a home life that is less than ideal for Lorna and marks all over the little one’s body, but nothing can be done, at least by those with the power to remove Lorna from her family. By the time she turns ten, Lorna begins to forge a bond with Claire and a plot is hatched to solve everything. Just after Christmas, they flee the town for the Cornish seaside, where Claire hopes to keep Lorna from the family that does not care for her. Tragic news comes over the wire, but Claire still wants to keep Lorna protected and away from the bright lights, but is confused why no one has reported Lorna missing. While out in the seaside town, Claire and Lorna encounter Marianne, a writer-cum-dancer-cum-Jill of all trades. Lorna and Marianne soon begin spending time together while Claire is left ignored and constantly worried she will be discovered as having kidnapped Lorna. However, something begins to eat away at Claire, both related to the news back home and the connection that Marianne has made with Lorna. Before long, Claire is left to wonder if she, too, will be abandoned and Marianne will pick up as the saviour figure to Lorna. A gripping tale that takes some time to get going, but pulls the reader in soon thereafter.
Without a strong connection to Vick and her writing, it is somewhat difficult to judge the calibre of that which I have read. However, I find that first impressions usually go a long way for me and I can say that I came out of this reading experience with mixed feelings. I was interested in the premise of the novel from the outset and Vick is able to present it in such a way as to capture its essence, a struggle between one’s gut reaction and the rules of the system. The array of characters Vick uses conveys a decent cross-section of those who might be involved, from abusive parents to detached school officials and an overbearing (caring?) educator who wants it all to work out for the best. While the plot is strong in its intentions, I felt it took a long time to really get moving, longer than I would have liked even to lay the groundwork for the departure from the primary residence itself. However, once things got moving, there was a wonderful undertone to the story and hints throughout as to what might be going on. Vick portrays Claire, Lorna, and Marianne in a wonderful fashion and leaves the reader to wonder if the gut reaction they are getting as the story progresses could actually be true. Vick layers on more drama and a few twists to keep the reader from guessing too much before letting everything fall into place at the perfect moment. Working in the Child Protection field myself, I enjoyed the perspective offered and can empathise with Claire on many accounts. An interesting novel that I think could work well and drawn many people to it, given the proper approach.
Kudos, Madam Vick for a great story and interesting portrayal. While I cannot put my finger on precisely what kept me from loving this book outrightly, I know there is much potential and I will keep my eyes peeled for your next work.