Freedom’s Child | Jax Miller | 2015 | HarperCollins | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book
Twenty years ago Freedom Oliver was convicted of the murder of her husband. A couple of years later she was freed when her husband’s brother was charged instead but this was too late for Freedom’s daughter. Having given birth in prison, Freedom spent just moments with her baby before she was taken away. Once released, her children were the cost of Freedom’s safety. Freedom is given a new name and identity, hidden from the Delaneys, her husband’s dangerous, vengeful family. She is given no choice but to give up her son and daughter for adoption.
But in this world there is little light at the end of the tunnel; happiness is the rarest of gifts, and the two children, now with new names of their own (Mason and Rebekah), are adopted by the Paul family. The Pauls are Third Day Adventists and while one child now grown, Mason, manages to escape their rules and influence, the other does not. But then comes the day when Rebekah disappears, coinciding with the release from prison of Freedom’s brother-in-law. Freedom immediately escapes her Witness Protection Programme and sets off to recover her daughter, by tooth and nail if it comes to it.
Freedom Oliver is an extraordinary heroine, given voice by Jax Miller, an author who completely blew me away with this, her outstanding debut novel, Freedom’s Child. There is an awful lot wrong with Freedom’s life. She’s been almost destroyed by the events of her young marriage, so many years ago. It’s left her near dependent on booze, quick to anger, ready to fight. But she remembers the past vividly and it haunts her. She thinks about it constantly and we go back with her to her life as a member of the horrendous Delaney family. In many ways, the novel is an apology to her lost children, including letters, and this gives it such a power. Freedom Oliver, for all her flaws and her rage, tells us her story from the heart and it is brilliantly done. Freedom is very real indeed and, as a result, so too is her hunt for Rebekah.
The forces Freedom faces are huge. The Delaneys are truly monstrous and in some ways literally so. Freedom’s mother-in-law is a disgusting creature. But even among this family Freedom has an ally and together they are faced with quite a task – the Delaneys on one side and the religiously fanatical Pauls on the other. The landscapes, too, come into play. Jax Miller describes her American locations vividly and with such atmosphere, whether we’re in the city or countryside, and many of them are laced with horror.
I was gripped by Freedom’s Child from start to finish. It is full of life, thanks to Freedom Oliver, but it is also such an accomplished thriller, packed full of edge-of-seat scenes and memorable, entertaining and sometimes utterly appalling characters. I can’t tell you about any of them here as you have to discover this wonderful novel for yourself which, from its very beginning, sets us off on a quest wrapped in heartache, pain, surprises and outright shocks. Its ending is every bit as good as its start, the plot fulling living up to the strengths of the novel’s characters and prose.
Freedom’s Child and Jax Miller are receiving large amounts of praise and it is completely merited. Gripping and addictive throughout, Freedom’s Child will undoubtedly end 2015 as one of my top thrillers – and novels – of the year.