The Hope Flower by Joy Dettman

‘You want to run so far and fast but you know that if you do, you’ll eventually have to turn around and come back, so why bother running?’

Lori Smyth-Owen, almost 15 years of age, is the only girl in a family of twelve: their mother Mavis had eaten herself into morbid obesity, their father is dead. Some of the brothers have left but Lori and those who remain have learned how to manage their lives without drawing the attention of the authorities in the (fictional) Australian country town of Willama.

‘It was a blur of life without a signpost marking the way.’

Because the children have reduced Mavis’s food intake, she loses two-thirds of her weight. This may prove to be a mixed blessing: a more mobile Mavis might be a more effective parent, but she is volatile and has mental health issues. And a mobile Mavis could undermine the coping strategies the children have in place to keep the family together.

‘Kids raised in that house had learnt early to put aside disappointment and to get on with life.’

Mavis (‘Mave’) emerges from her cocoon of fat, ready to tackle the world. Her increased mobility makes her difficult to manage, her self-absorption means that she has no time (or interest) in effective parenting.

What can I tell you about this bittersweet rollercoaster ride of a novel? It is unbearably sad in parts, while humorous and hopeful in others. I understand it is a sequel to ‘Henry’s Daughter’ (which I have now bought but not yet read). While I am in awe of the ingenuity demonstrated by the children and their survival skills, the parent in me wanted to walk into the book and intervene. Yes, these characters become real. The children are incredibly resilient (mostly) and while their family history may not be what they thought it was, there is some hope for the future. Eventually.

Heartbreakingly sad and ultimately hopeful.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and PanMacmillan Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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