Author: Monique Mulligan
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Pilyara Press
Published: 8th March 2022
After being bullied at school, Jane Kelly dreads spending the summer holidays alone, friendless. So, when Acacia Miller moves in next door, Jane imagines carefree days of trading secrets and pinky promises with a new best friend. But as their friendship grows, Acacia remains stubbornly guarded about her home life, and Jane becomes caught up in a sinister situation she doesn’t understand. When Acacia’s secret becomes one too many for Jane to carry, she must choose whether to challenge the status quo and risk losing her only friend. Or stay silent, knowing the danger it hides.
An abused woman flees to a refuge and bumps into someone from her childhood. Haunted by her past but grappling with a desire to reconnect and rebuild her life, she realises there are wounds that time alone cannot heal. Can she find the courage to confront the darkest secrets of all: her own?
In 1979, Jane Kelly has just gone on school holidays, and is relieved to be away from the relentless bullying of school and Mary Evans, where she has no friends. A new girl moves in next door – Acacia – and Jane longs to become her friend – to have a kindred spirit, just like in Anne of Green Gables. For the first time, Jane has a friend – but Acacia is hiding a secret that she doesn’t want anyone to know about, and in a time when speaking out was less common than it is these days, when the attitude was what happens in one family’s home is their business, Jane soon finds that she is caught between speaking out and staying silent, and knowing that the latter is dangerous.
Twenty years later, a woman flees from abuse to a shelter. She rediscovers a connection to her childhood, and hopes to heal, hopes to find a way out of the cycle of abuse. In the 1999 chapters, in first person, the characters are nameless, referred to by their role in the story in relation to the woman telling her story – we don’t even know her name, just the name of the woman she’s come to – Pat. In comparison, Jane’s story is more explicit, naming people and what she sees, so at first, we may link the two timelines together as the same character.
Monique Mulligan has taken a timely and sensitive topic and discussed it in two different settings – 1979/1980, through the eyes of a child and what she notices, and how she learns it is okay to speak out, and what it means to be brave, and in 1999, through the eyes of an abused woman. The narrative shows the progression of learning to speak out from a culture of mind your own business, and where past experiences in a war, for example, were used to explain bad behaviour or anger – and the juxtaposition of attitudes of acceptability and maintaining the status quo. In the 1999 plot, we get an insight into how things have changed, and slowly build the links to the other plot and characters slowly, ensuring that nothing is left out, that the clues are there yet the reveal is still surprising once we reach the end and the finality of everything.
These two storylines and times contrast to today even more – when domestic violence is spoken about widely, when it is featured as a plot in television and movies, allowing us to try and speak about it, even if we still conclude that as an individual, we cannot imagine ever doing that. However, when it is laid out so bare and bleak in news, in novels like this, in television shows that show the darkness of humanity, it starts to fall into place. We know it is unacceptable – and Monique has shown how we can deal with it and learn to help people, and how this started for her characters – one small slice of their experience to explore a wider issue of domestic violence.
These days, women are more empowered to speak out, though there’s still fear – still a sense that it’s a bit taboo. It shouldn’t be. We should read books like this even if they unsettle us, because they can help us understand how we can help. Help us understand what happens, and maybe why, though in this novel, it was more about learning not to stay silent when it matters – and standing up for your friends, your family, and for human decency. It shines a light on family violence and could be triggering for some readers. It gives voice to the voiceless and allows deeper thought and discussion about an issue that many still fail to talk about, comprehend or try to justify in a world where it still feels like we’re encouraged not to talk about certain things. It is a triumph of emotion and sensitivity, as well as its efforts to shed a light on a tough topic.