REVIEW: DON'T LET ME GO BY SUSAN LEWIS

DON’T LET ME GO
Author: Susan Lewis
Century RRP $32.95
Review: Monique Mulligan

Although Susan Lewis’ latest novel Don’t Let Me Go follows on from the story started in No Child of Mine (click here for review), it can be read as a stand-alone book. However, for added depth and insight into the main characters’ actions, it is helpful to read Don’t Let Me Go first; Lewis provides plenty of food for thought.

Since leaving the UK with three-year-old Chloe, Charlotte Nicholls has been busy rebuilding her life, starting with legally changing her name back to the one she was given at birth (in the first book, Charlotte was known as Alex Lake, the name her adoptive parents gave her). Her relocation to New Zealand has meant leaving everything behind her – her adoptive sister, Gabby, her niece and nephew, her friends and her career as a social worker. But now she’s building a relationship with her long-lost mother, Anna (circumstances meant Anna had to go into hiding) and Anna’s new family. Charlotte is struggling with the conflicting feelings of resentment and excitement at being reunited with her mother, a situation complicated by the knowledge they share about Chloe.

Here’s where a bit of background is needed – it is revealed in the story, albeit slowly. Back in the UK Chloe (then known as Ottilie) was an at-risk child on Charlotte’s (then Alex) caseload (this story is the focus of Don’t Let Me Go). Horribly abused by her paedophile father, Brian Wade, and neglected by her schizophrenic mother, Chloe/Ottilie formed an instant, unbreakable connection with Charlotte. It’s this connection that led the two to where they are now – in a nutshell, Charlotte, fearing for Ottilie’s safety in the state system, hid Ottilie from police after her mother was found dead at the hands of her father. She then started calling her Chloe and managed to get her out of the country.  Phew!

The police think Ottilie is dead and are preparing to charge her father with a second murder, despite never having found a body. When they are tipped off that Charlotte and Alex Lake are the same person and that Chloe is the missing child, embarrassment turns quickly to anger. Before long, Charlotte is forced to confront the consequences of the decision she made to keep Chloe. She says she rescued Chloe; the law says she abducted Chloe. Who’s right? Will upholding the law mean Charlotte loses the little girl she has promised to love and protect forever?

Don’t Let Me Go is slow to start – readers new to the story will probably be wondering what’s going on. It’s not until about a quarter of the way through that the book really hits its stride. The rest of the book, however, is compelling reading, raising interesting debate about overworked welfare/child protection systems, the challenge of finding consistent and appropriate foster care, and the impact of inappropriate car on the children caught in the middle. The other question that invites debate – probably the bigger one – is whether or not Charlotte did the right thing. Should people take matters into their own hands? Or should the system, tired and challenged as it is, be left to do its job? The book also explores the nature v nurture issue and mother-daughter relationships. Lots to talk about!

Despite the slow start, and probably because I had the benefit of reading the earlier book, I found Don’t Let Me Go to be gripping reading, with vivid, thought-provoking scenarios that kept me glued till the end.

Available from good bookstores and Random House Australia. This copy was courtesy of Random House.

Bookish treat: Charlotte’s stepfather has a vineyard, so wine seems the perfect accompaniment. Make it last!