Review: ALL OUR SECRETS, Jennifer Lane

Synopsis (publisher)

A girl called Gracie.

A small town called Coongahoola with the dark Bagooli River running through it.

The Bleeders — hundreds of ‘Believers’ who set up on the banks of the river, who start to buy up the town and win souls.

The River Children
— born in the aftermath of the infamous River Picnic. They begin to go missing, one after another.

Gracie Barrett is the naively savvy spokesperson for her chaotic family (promiscuous dad, angry mum, twins Lucky and Grub, Elijah the River Child and fervent, prayerful Grandma Bett), for the kids who are taken, for the lurking fear that locks down the town and puts everyone under suspicion.

Gracie is funny and kind, bullied and anguished, and her life spirals out of control when she discovers she knows what no one else does: who is responsible for the missing children.

Coongahoola is where hope and fear collide, where tender adolescence is confronted by death, where kindness is a glimmer of light in the dark.

My Take

Gracie Barrett, the central figure in this novel, reminded me a lot of Scout Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. In fact at one stage Gracie is reading the book. In some senses Gracie has a wisdom beyond her years, and in other ways she is naive in her acceptance of what is happening in the adult world. There is a deceptive complexity to this plot.

The first mystery to solve is what actually happened on the night of the River Picnic. And then, as the River Children born in its aftermath, begin to go missing and are then are discovered murdered, what is the thread that connects them? Why are these murders happening, what has triggered them after 8 years?

The town of Coongahoola is divided with the arrival of Saint Bede and his followers, and the followers become easy scapegoats to blame for the murders. Gracie is particularly affected when he mother and father breakup, her mother leaves home, and is then chosen by Saint Bede to be his 4th wife. Through all Grandma Bett provides much needed stability, but still the murders happen.

And then Gracie unwittingly identifies the murderer.

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if Boo Radley had been bad?

My rating: 4.5

In 1995, doubled over under the enormous weight of her backpack (lugging a 10kg laptop among other things), Jennifer Lane left Australia to satisfy her curiosity about the rest of the world – and to fulfil her dream of writing a novel. Twenty-two years, one husband and two daughters later, her mum has finally given up asking when she’s coming home.

For two decades now, Jennifer has lived in Wellington, New Zealand with the aforementioned family. She was a winner of New Zealand Book Month’s Six Pack 2 writing competition in 2007 and her short stories have appeared in publications on both sides of the Tasman, including Southerly and Island.

It took a little longer than she planned, but ALL OUR SECRETS is her first novel.

Her website and blog are at: jenniferlane.co.nz

Advertisements