An investigator who specializes in locating missing children turns her attention to a case closer to home.
After introducing Naomi Cottle to readers in The Child Finder (2017), Denfeld has brought back the tough-but-fragile searcher to explore her origins. As a girl, Naomi was held captive with her sister in a bunker in rural Oregon; one day, Naomi escaped and ran to safety and was eventually taken in by a foster mother. But Naomi was never reunited with the sister she had to leave behind, and now, 20 years on, without even the ability to remember her sister’s name, Naomi is trying to find her, starting with the street community in Portland. She’s especially drawn to one girl she meets, Celia, a 12-year-old who’s been homeless since reporting her stepfather for sexual abuse only to see him acquitted and able to move back into the family home, where Celia’s younger sister still lives. Despite the fact that Celia is living on the streets at the same time as young homeless women are being murdered and dumped into the river, she feels safer there than at home thanks to the refuge she takes in the local library and in her imagination, where she obsesses over butterflies and the freedom they represent. As she works to recover her sister, gain Celia’s trust, and uncover the serial killer, Naomi serves to remind us of the message of all of Denfeld’s work: “People stop existing once you forget them”—and no person deserves to be forgotten. If Denfeld would ease up a bit on the sentimentality, this message could shine through all the more.
A humane, though frequently mawkish, look at a system where too many fall through the cracks.