The cover is amazing and I knew I was in for something powerful when I read the first line of this book. “In the weatherboard house at the end of the lane, nine-year-old Alice Hart sat at her desk by the window and dreamed of ways to set her father on fire.”
Alice is the daughter of an abusive father. When tragedy strikes, Alice finds herself living with a grandmother she didn’t know she had, on a native flower farm where she grows up loved and protected. Her grandmother, June, a tormented woman with hidden secrets loves Alice with such an intensity that when she betrays her granddaughter to protect her, sets off a course for Alice neither of whom can reverse.
This is an expansive novel covering twenty years with twists and turns as the family secrets unravel and Alice finds out about her tumultuous past. The first hundred or so pages are gripping and I found myself holding my breath. The family violence is harrowing but thankfully short-lived . Then the narrative slows in the second third and meanders almost in a healing way as Alice settles into her new life at the native flower farm. The reader, unlike Alice is led tauntingly into the family secrets. June communicates best through flowers and this is emphasised cleverly when each chapter opens with the name of a native flower reflecting the theme.
Frustration grows as June is unable to tell Alice the truth about her family and for me this was a touch longer than I would have liked. There was some repetition and at times, Alice’s behaviour seemed to be at odds for a child with trauma. The last third, however was a page turner and I was unable to put it down.
I enjoyed the supporting characters, Twig, Lulu, Candy who all offered Alice their strength when needed. June was more complex and I felt little sympathy for her. The settings from the lush tropics to the red outback are wonderfully portrayed as of course are the flowers.
This is a story of loss, love and betrayal, and I now see native flowers in a very different way.