The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison by Meredith Jaffé

‘When Sharon enters the room, Derek doesn’t know where to look.’

Derek Brown, a prisoner at the Yarrandarrah Correctional Centre for embezzling funds, learns that his daughter Debbie is getting married when his (former) sister-in-law Sharon visits him. Derek’s been imprisoned for five years and still has two to serve. Sharon is the first visitor he has had except for his lawyer. Derek writes to his daughter every week, but he has never heard back from her. Debbie is 21, and she is planning to marry in seven months.

Derek cannot be present and has no money. How can he prove to his daughter that he loves her?

Derek is part of a prison sewing group called Backtackers, a group run by a charity which teaches male prisoners quilting and embroidery. Jane is the teacher for Yarrandarrah, and Derek seeks her advice.

Eventually, with time ticking by and after discussion and agonising about what to do, the Backtackers decide to make a wedding dress. At times, Derek is the least committed to this project but other men in the group are caught up by the idea. Decisions need to be made about fabric and the length of the veil, and Jane approaches Lorraine and Debbie to try to get Debbie’s measurements.

But there are plenty of twists in this tale. Being part of Backtackers is a privilege, and men move into and out of the group as privileges are revoked or transfers occur. Can Jane win Lorraine and Debbie over? Can the prisoners work together for long enough to make and embroider a wedding dress and veil?

I really enjoyed this novel: watching Derek become more self-aware, realising that the other inmates had more in common with him than he thought. There are a few laugh out loud moments as well as both romance and tragedy as this story unfolds.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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