No Child of Mine
Author: Susan Lewis
Century RRP $32.95
Review: Monique Mulligan
Do you ever how some people do the jobs they do? I mean people like social workers who work with children at risk, those who see and hear horrifying things every day and have to try (somehow) to distance their emotions from the job. The protagonist in No Child of Mine works in child protection and finds herself involved in a nightmarish situation that she can’t just leave at work. It’s a compelling read from the start – hard to put down and hard to stop thinking about when you do.
By night, Alex Lake has a live-in boyfriend, a nice cottage at the top end of the village, and a director/producer role with the Mulgrove Village Players. Her boyfriend’s ex constantly constantly intrudes on their time and his children hate her … but apart from that, her home life is pretty good. For now. Alex’s day job is all about helping people, especially children. She cares about them passionately and does everything in her power to rescue them from those who mean them harm. It’s as frustrating a career as it can be rewarding, though all too often she is left wondering if she has done enough.
When the case of three-year-old Ottilie Crane comes to her attention everything changes. Alex is unable to detach from the child the way she should, and feels an overpowering need to make a real difference in little Ottilie’s life. When her boyfriend breaks up with her, her sister tells her she’s selling the cottage, and her long lost mother appears out of the blue, she literally feels as if the rug is being pulled out from under her, and her desire to help Ottilie is about the only thing she feels like she has a strong hold of. Her own life is skidding out of control; it’s only the rules and regulations underpinning child protection that seem to be stable. Or are they? Without solid evidence to back up her suspicions about Ottilie’s home life, Alex lacks support from her superiors to ensure Ottilie is safe. In the end, Alex follows the only course left to her, and takes the law into her own hands …
This is only the second Susan Lewis novel I’ve read and it was just as compelling as the first (Losing You). No Child of Mine is full of drama, emotion and confronting situations – it hooks the reader from the start and then reels them in so that they can’t help be emotionally involved. By turns I felt angry, sad, confused, helpless, happy and frustrated – you could say that I was emotionally involved, no doubt. I loved the combination of strength and vulnerability in Alex as much as I hated the manipulative, sociopathic Brian, father of Ottilie. Like Alex, I wanted to wrap Ottilie in my arms and save her from the life she was born into, from her parents, who in their own ways, were sick people, unable to care for Ottilie they way they should. As for secondary characters, I saw through Jason, Alex’s boyfriend, from the start – his actions showed him to be a weak man; Gabby, Alex’s sister, came across as rather selfish for most of the book, but redeemed herself in the end.
It’s a long book, with difficult subject matter, including child abuse of varying types. The only thing I would say is that the ending was a bit contrived – without spoiling things, I’ll just say that Gabby’s husband coincidentally having the same last name as Alex was a stretch. This ‘Hollywood’ effect detracted from the realism of the rest of the book. But the subject matter and treatment has enough power to forgive this. A great read – just prepare to be challenged.
Available from good bookstores and Random House Australia. This copy was courtesy of Random House.
Bookish Treat: Muffins – it’s a treat Ottilie and Alex enjoyed on the way to nursery school.