The Way Back…
All she wanted was to escape. But why does she still feel trapped. A gripping psychological drama by the author of Mothers and Daughters and Into My Arms.
Charlie Johnson is 13 and in her first year of high school. She loves her family, netball and Liam, the cute guy who sits next to her in Science – but most of all she loves horses and horse-riding. Charlie’s parents have leased her a horse, Tic Tac, from the local pony club, but one day they go out for a ride in the national park and only Tic Tac returns…
Four months later, long after the police and the SES have called off the search, Charlie is found wandering injured and filthy, miles from where she was last seen. Her family rejoice in her return, but can anyone truly recover from what Charlie’s been through? When a life has been shattered, how do you put the pieces back together?
In her latest novel, The Way Back, Kylie Ladd has put into words to every parent’s worst nightmare. An abducted child. Missing for months. Yet, The Way Back is more than a novel about a teenage girl being abducted and found. It goes beyond this and explores the ripple effects of trauma, the way it can fracture a family as well as the individuals affected by an incident. The Way Back is a brilliant read, achingly real and entirely relatable. Kylie has a way of picking the flesh from the bones, stripping a story back to its essentials and then laying it all out, holding no parts back. Her work is always rendered with the utmost honesty, and in The Way Back, this honest narrative showcases Kylie Ladd at her very best. Your heart will break while reading this novel, you’ll be overcome by the gravity of what is happening to these characters, but even so, you won’t be able to put this novel down and you will continue to think about it for some time once you are finished.
I liked the way this novel was broken up into its three parts: Before, During and After. Within these sections, we experience the story through the eyes of Charlie, both her parents, her brother, the lead police sergeant investigating her case, and her abductor. This gives such a rounded and complete picture of the story, especially the addition of the abductor, Col. We could get a real feel for the Johnsons in Before, appreciate their normalcy, which of course makes what happens so much more relatable. They’re normal, it happened to them therefore it could happen to any family. The section During was rather traumatic, only because you could put yourself right into the situation, and well and truly imagine what this must be like, dealing with your child missing. Knowing that they’re out there somewhere, unknowing though if they’re alive or dead. Such a terrible state to live in and Kylie did so well at articulating the mental anguish a parent would be going through at such a time. In addition to this, we are exposed to what Charlie is experiencing, and it is with mounting dread that we encounter these passages. They were harrowing, but they needed to be. I frequently had to remind myself that this poor girl was only thirteen, magnifying the horror all over again. So young, to have such a terrible thing happen, yet so brave at the same time. The final section, After, is where we see the full effects of being a victim of crime and how far reaching this is. For Charlie, and her family, nothing was over once it was over. Life couldn’t just go back to normal.
Novels that focus on the long-lasting effects of crime are always so interesting to me. For the general public, when we see a missing person found, it’s celebrated, we hear about it for a little bit and then it fades away. But for the victim, and their family, a new trauma is just beginning. How do you assimilate back into your life? How do you answer questions you don’t want to answer? How do you ever feel safe again? Who are you now that you have been damaged by another? These questions, and more, are all addressed with skill and sensitivity in The Way Back. Reading a novel such as this provokes all manner of thoughts to begin swirling within your head, but foremost is this: Do we need to teach our children to be less friendly? We talk about stranger-danger and not engaging with unknown people online, never getting into a car with someone, the list really does go on and as parents we know it off by heart. But what of the kindness extended to the random, seemingly harmless looking person, who then takes that kindness and warps it to their own motivations, reading too much into it? This struck a chord with me, as I have encountered such people, those with diminished mental faculties, who really don’t understand why their overtures are not appreciated. All we can do is encourage our children to be cautious, without discouraging kindness, yet it’s a delicate balance. There is much to churn over after reading The Way Back, and your mind will take some time to settle.
I highly recommend The Way Back, my new favourite from Kylie Ladd (which previously was Into My Arms). It’s a must read for book clubs, the range of material will keep you all discussing the novel for hours and that of course is the very best type of book club read.
Thanks is extended to Allen and Unwin for providing me with a copy of The Way Back for review.
The Way Back is book 42 in my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kylie Ladd for Sunday Spotlight over on the AWW blog. If you’d like to find out more about Kylie and the story behind The Way Back, the interview was published today and it’s delightfully insightful, well worth the read.