Reviewed by Emma Crowley
As I saw my new-born baby’s face for the first time I tried desperately to capture her face in my mind—to stamp it onto my eyelids. As she was taken from me I knew I might never see my daughter again.
38 years later…
‘You were adopted’. Three short words and Sabina’s life fractures. There would forever be a Before those words, and an After.
Pregnant with her own child, Sabina can’t understand how a mother could abandon her daughter, or why her parents have kept the past a secret.
Determined to find the woman who gave her away, what she discovers will change everything, not just for Sabina, but for the women who have loved her all these years.
The Secret Daughter is the latest release from Kelly Rimmer. An extremely well written novel that had me lost in a story of forced adoption in Australia during the 1970's. It was only my first read by this author but I raced through it in a couple of hours. Kelly uses strong, descriptive writing to entice the reader into the upheaval about to fall on our main character Sabina and her family, there was no messing about with a long introduction instead we are drawn straight into the action. The characters don't dance around each other afraid of hurting each others feelings, they deal directly with their emotions, declarations and their consequence and this element definitely made for an interesting read. This was a refreshingly different read which I would put in the same vein as Diane Chamberlain but this was even better than some of Diane's latest releases. This is no girl meets boy and falls in love read but rather heartbreaking, beautifully written story based on true facts. Knowing elements of this story were true made for an insightful if at times hard to read book.
Sabina is 38 and on the cusp of a momentous event in her life that every woman at one stage or another may wish would happen to them. Married to Ted, the couple have spent the past number of years working and travelling and now feel ready to 'grow up' as such. They have bought a house (although they do live in the granny flat next door) and are overjoyed to discover soon they will be expecting a new little arrival. Both delighted with themselves they can't wait to inform their parents and this is where things take a massive nosedive. This is a time when families are supposed to unite with love but when Sabina's parents discover the news their reaction is far from normal leaving Sabina hurt and distressed. At first Sabina believes her mother Megan is not happy as she herself is worried for Sabina - after all she has had many failed pregnancies and would not wish the same for her own flesh and blood. But thankfully the author does not leave us hanging instead brings us straight to the heart of the matter. It is revealed that Sabina was adopted all those years ago from a maternity home in a rural town several hours from Sydney. Sabina's carefully constructed world comes crashing down instantly and everything she believed to be true is about to be questioned. Her joy at the announcement of her pregnancy is forever overshadowed and nothing can possibly be the same. 'The evenings normality had shattered, and in its place, I sat in the bubble of a nightmare.' There were numerous stop and reread sentences like this scattered throughout the book and were a credit to the author.
As Sabina wonders how she can continue on with her life now such a dramatic change has occurred, I felt Ted really came into his own. He was such a strong person, supportive, understanding but yet rational at the same time never allowing Sabina to lose focus. He shows her all sides of the situation. How must have her birth mother felt? Why did her parents lie to her? You just know whatever Sabina decides Ted will back her up and be a shoulder to cry on or offer an ear to listen. Just the absolute perfect gentleman, you can see the strong bond they have and they really are soul mates destined to spend forever together. What made this novel so good was that all perspectives were covered. We hear from every character involved so the story is not one sided but we are presented with an overall picture. This was excellent because too often in books I judge characters very fast especially if we only hear from the main character and I should really stop doing that. The Secret Daughter was well rounded in this aspect as we learn of Lily and her story in the maternity home as she writes letters to her boyfriend James. These letters were raw and jam packed with heartfelt emotion and to be honest naivety at first as she begs James to come and take her away believing at such a young age they could live together and have a family. As realisation dawns for her the letters become even more desperate as she cottons on to what will happen once her baby is born. I felt every bit for Lily, too young to stand up to her father or the authorities in the home yet wanting the best for the child growing inside her. Using the letters as a form of communication thoroughly enhanced the story. Not seeing someone face to face Lily poured her everything onto the pages and I felt we could really connect with everything she was going through. Later on in the book we hear from Mrs. Baxter's point of view a social worker who worked in the home and this again changed my opinion of characters in the book as their thoughts and actions were clearly defined and explained. That's not to say I liked all of the characters even though they tried to redeem themselves numerous times.
The reader really does feel for Sabina as she decides should she try and trace her birth mother? One can only imagine the shock and hurt she is experiencing not to mention her disbelief and anger. She has to mourn the relationship she has had with Megan and Graeme for over 38 years whilst coming to terms there may be an entire new family waiting for her out there. This is not an easy thing to do and at some points you would almost forget Sabina is pregnant as the story shifts and focuses on the search. This raises many questions - should adopted children be told at a certain age abut their birth? At a late stage in life was Sabina right to try and find her real mum or should she let sleeping dogs lie like Megan wanted to? This really was a strong book but the second half certainly had the edge for me. I am not the most emotional of people but I did find myself wiping away tears as I read of the journey Sabina undertakes with Ted by her side her rock at all times.
This story is all the more gritty and true as the events that took place at the maternity home did happen in Australia. Forced adoption was a reality but maybe I was not as shocked as the author intended as similar things happened here in Ireland with women and young girls being sent to Magdalene laundries. A film was even made about it so we are all aware of the brutalities these women experienced. So knowing this I felt I was able to concentrate more on Sabina and how she felt and dealt with everything and I can say I thoroughly enjoyed the journey I took with her. She was a better person for discovering the truth. If you want something just that little bit different, something more meatier for your poolside read this year I would highly recommend The Secret Daughter, a thought provoking, emotional story not to be missed.
I'd like to thank Emma for this brilliant review of The Secret Daughter which we received from the publisher via NetGalley.