In SHE'S NOT THERE Joy Fielding Writes a "What If" Story About Child Abduction

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Book Review - Jackie K Cooper
SHE'S NOT THERE by Joy Fielding

It is obvious Joy Fielding used the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007 as the premise for her new novel SHE'S NOT THERE. However this is not a "based on" story but rather a "what if" one. Fielding has a little two year old girl disappear from a hotel room when the parents are eating at a restaurant below. Then she goes fifteen years in the future and has some extraordinary events take place. It all makes for exciting reading even if some of the outcomes are cheesy and somewhat hard to believe.

Caroline Shipley and her husband Hunter are celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary in Mexico with friends and family when their two year old daughter disappears. They have left Samantha and her five year old sister Michelle alone in their room when the baby-sitter failed to show. Caroline had not wanted to leave them but gave into her husband's pleas. He assured her they would be perfectly safe and the two parents could check on them every half hour.

Fifteen years into the future Caroline and Hunter are divorced. She is teaching high school math and trying to keep herself together. Her daughter Michelle has been arrested for drunk driving and is doing community service at a local private nursing home where Caroline's best friend Peggy works. Peggy and her husband were two of the people who were in Mexico when Samantha was taken.

As it is the fifteen year anniversary of Samantha's abduction the press is all over Caroline one more time. They have also printed a sketch of Samantha as "she would look today". This sketch went viral and was seen by people all around the world. One person who saw it was a girl in Canada named Lili. She was so taken by her resemblance to the picture that she calls Caroline and says she thinks she might be Samantha. With that the story is off and running.

This is a plot that could spill over into fantasy easily but somehow Joy Fielding keeps it inside the lines of reality for the most part. One way she does this is by having Caroline be a flawed heroine. The reader comes to hate how Caroline is submissive to just about anyone and everyone in her life. She lets her ex run all over her and he certainly has no right to give guidance in any situation. She also kowtows to Michelle, a snarky daughter if there ever was one. But the main offender in the "treat Caroline badly" sweepstakes is her mother, Mary (It was so much fun to read in the Author's Notes that Mary was based on a real person - take that!).

It is also refreshing Fielding used the flashback device for a portion of the novel and then just dropped it completely. Usually once an author commits to telling parts of the story in flashback it is used for the entire novel, but in the latter parts of this novel it wasn't needed and so wasn't used. That was a perceptive decision on Fielding's part and one that served her audience and not the "rules of writing".

SHE'S NOT THERE is an entertaining read as well as an informative one. Fielding shows the secondary horrors that follow a child abduction. The parents are always looked at as suspects. The media hounds the family mercilessly. The remaining child faces survivor's guilt. And for those for whom the solution to the abduction crime is never known, there is always the horror of what is happening now.

Joy Fielding writes about a horrible situation but she leaves you with a feeling of completeness. It is tricky how she does that, but it is a way most readers will be able to accept.

SHE'S NOT THERE is published by Ballantine Books. It contains 368 pages and sells for $27.00.

Jackie K Cooper

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