I read some quotes about Kylie Ladd’s other work before embarking on this book and they all centred around how well she portrayed families and their relationships. This is the first book I’ve read by Ladd and I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I very much enjoyed the complex yet relatable characters she’s developed and the way she brings a family to crisis… and back out again.
The Way Back
by Kylie Ladd
Published by Allen & Unwin
on August 1st 2017
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Literary Fiction, Women's Fiction
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?
I’m generally a fan of novels of suspense and whodunnits. The Way Back is not that sort of book. We know who’s taken Charlie from the get-go and Ladd takes us into her mind (and that of her captor’s to an extent) during the four months she’s away from her family.
This book isn’t about the investigation or the hunt for the baddie. It isn’t a race against time to save someone’s life. The blurb tells us Charlie returns home, so we already know that happens.
This book is very much about Charlie and how she copes while in captivity and after being released, and it’s about her family and the impact Charlie’s disappearance has on their life…. on the things they’ve previously held dear and – of course – on their relationships.
As well as a short time in the head of Charlie’s captor, we alternate between the four members of Charlie’s family and they’re all complicated and very very real.
I wasn’t particularly fond of Charlie’s mother Rachael in the early stages of the book. In many ways she’s the breadwinner of the family – or at least thinks of herself in that way. She loves her children and worries about them but there’s a sense of detachment… expecting her husband Matt to pick up a lot of the domestic slack so she can focus on a career she is proud of, and cherishes.
On the other hand, Dan and Charlie are Matt’s world.
He loved Rachael every bit as much as he had when they’d stood at the altar, possibly more, but that love had been eclipsed by what he felt for his children. He adored them. He couldn’t quite believe they were his. p 37
Matt’s a firefighter and grapples with a lot of stress in his job but his odd hours and shiftwork means he picks up a lot of the household slack. He’s also used to being the ‘hero’ so when Charlie disappears and then when she returns he struggles that he’s not able to make everything better.
And then there’s 16yr old Dan who’s beautifully written and portrayed in a really compassionate and realistic way by Ladd. He suspects he is depressed but doesn’t quite know how to admit it.
It was bad enough to feel like crying; it was worse having to explain why. p 31
Charlie’s quite a delightful character and seemingly loved by all. Even her rivalry with another rider and school friend is good natured.
I really loved the relationship between Charlie and Dan. When we first meet the family his parents are unable to really ‘connect’ with Dan but he’s completely unguarded when it comes to his sister. She easily slips beneath his defenses and he doesn’t just tolerate his younger sibling, but appreciates her personality and presence.
As I said, this book is very much about how our characters cope with Charlie’s disappearance and… her return.
I know Ladd has a background in psychology (specifically neuropsychology) but I think she did a wonderful job in terms of writing about Charlie’s trauma and the complexities of healing. She very sympathetically approaches the notion of ‘recovery’ from a number of angles for each of the characters and we get to see a realistic growth rather than magical ‘A-ha, I’m all better!‘ moments.
I suspect it’s obvious I loved this book, which touches on the helplessness parents feel when harm comes to their children, or they feel unable to help them. I liked the fact the novel reflects all of the family’s individual relationships and the fact we see the characters AND their relationships both falter and change because of – and in spite of – what happens.
I should also mention I appreciated that Ladd wasn’t compelled to cast Charlie’s captor in a cliched ‘completely-evil’ way. We’re in his head a little and surprisingly, able to feel some sympathy for this person who’s ripped apart the lives of those we’ve come to care about.
The Way Back by Kylie Ladd was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.