Review: Half the World Away by Cath Staincliffe

Thursday 4 June 2015
Title: Half the World Away
Author: Cath Staincliffe
Publisher: Constable
Publication Date: 4th June 2015
Pages: 336
ISBN: 9781472117977
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4.5/5
Purchase: Amazon
Newly graduated photography student Lori Maddox spends the year after university travelling and visits China where she finds work as a private English tutor. Back in Manchester, her parents Jo and Tom, who separated when Lori was a toddler, follow her adventures on her blog, 'Lori In The Orient'.

Suddenly communication stops and when the silence persists a frantic Jo and Tom report her missing. It is impossible to find out anything from 5,000 miles away so they travel out to Chengdu, a city in the south-western province of Sichuan, to search for their daughter.

Landing in a totally unfamiliar country, with no knowledge of the customs or language, and receiving scant help from the local authorities, Jo and Tom are forced to turn detective, following in their daughter's footsteps, tracing the people she mentioned in her posts, interviewing her friends, colleagues and students. It's an unbearably difficult challenge and, as the days pass, the fear that Lori is lost for good grows ever larger.

Half the World Away opens and introduces us to a family that could be your own, and this is one of the real strengths of Cath Staincliffe's stories and characters. In Half the World Away we meet Jo who is the mother of Lori. Lori is about to go travelling, one of the stops on her travels being Chengdu. Jo is of course a little bit worried about her daughter being so far away in a foreign country and straightaway we get an understanding of the type of mother that she is, and her fears will probably be echoed by any parent reading this who has had to cope with one of their children being in a similar situation. We also learn about the family set up, the different relationship Lori has with Jo's ex-husband, and the current relationship Jo has with her new partner, and the set-up they have at home.

Lori writes about her journeys on her blog, with sporadic emails and texts home to her parents, usually when she needs money. Soon though all communication stops, including the blog posts. Jo is soon frantic, wanting to call the police despite being told that Lori is probably fine. Well, probably is never good enough for a mother and soon Jo and her ex-husband Tom are flying out to China, following Lori's footsteps in their attempts to find out what has happened to her. Firstly through Lori's posts we are able to build a quite vivid picture in our minds as we read about what the culture in Chengdu is like, but once Jo and Tom arrive in the city it felt like I was there with them. This is a setting that has been beautifully captured by Cath and it helps us to really see just how helpless Jo and Tom are, and just what a dangerous place it is for those who aren't natives. Jo and Tom receive little help from the authorities, and are met with suspicion when they arrive.

Cath is an author that doesn't just describe how her characters feel, but she makes you take on some of those feelings yourself. The pain that Jo as a parent felt was palpable and, despite being a young male with no children, I could really feel her pain as I read, and thought about how I would react in a similar situation. During the search we see how Jo must cope spending so much time with Tom, and how she copes with the troubles at home whilst being so far away. I was completely compelled to read on, along with Jo and Tom I was desperate to find out what had happened to Lori, and whether she was even still alive. The setting really adds an almost exciting dynamic to the story, it being something completely different to anything else I have ever read about before. It is of course difficult to discuss in any great detail, but it is a powerful and emotive read, one that will tug at the heartstrings of every parent that picks it up, and for younger readers or students who are travelling, it might urge them to pick up the phone and call home more often.

Half the World Away is one of those books that completely consumes you as you read, telling a tale that most readers will keep thinking about long after they have turned the final page and moved onto a new book. Cath writes real character-driven stories, with realistic, believable characters and I think that's one of the things that makes her books so enjoyable. Half the World Away might just be one of her best yet, and it comes highly recommended by me.


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