A gifted investigator combs Oregon’s snowy mountain forests for a missing girl.
Naomi Cottle is a child finder. Grieving families call on her when their children go missing, and she devotes her entire life to finding them, sometimes dead and sometimes miraculously alive. Like many literary detectives, her personal life suffers for her single-mindedness: she has few friends and remains in only intermittent contact with her foster family. In her latest case, she’s been asked to find a girl named Madison Culver, who went missing three years ago, at the age of 5. Although the locals assume Madison froze to death, Naomi, propelled by her own vague early memories of being held hostage as a child, is determined to locate the girl. At the same time Naomi searches for clues in Madison’s disappearance, readers are privy to Madison’s narrative as she's locked in a cellar with a man she knows only as B. With nothing but her daydreams and memories of fairy tales to keep her sane, Madison reinvents herself as the snow girl and wonders whether the life she once had is gone forever. Aside from a clumsy subplot about Naomi searching for a baby from an impoverished community, Denfeld (The Enchanted, 2014, etc.) keeps the pacing quick as readers rush to discover Madison’s fate. While Denfeld’s message is meant to be redemptive—no loved child will ever be forgotten—make no mistake: this is also a book that is frankly about the sexual abuse of children. And though Denfeld is no doubt trying to explore the psychological realities of this abuse, and of conditions like Stockholm syndrome, her tendency toward florid writing can make her depiction feel romanticized and takes the book at times from disquieting into downright unpalatable.
Denfeld’s intentions are good, but her tone strikes the wrong notes.