Outback Dreams (Bunyip Bay #1)
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher
A school reunion has forced Faith Forrester to recognise that her life is going no where. Almost 30, she lives on the family farm with her widowed father and brother but she isn’t allowed to assist with any of the farm work. Instead Faith cleans and cooks, picking up after her relatives like some kind of slave. She has a half finished agriculture studies degree that she gave up ten years ago to nurse her mother through the last stages of breast cancer and never went back. She wants to do farm work but she has come to the realisation that it isn’t going to happen as she cooks the next Sunday roast. To do what she loves, she will have to leave the family farm.
Faith’s best friend Daniel Montgomery (aka ‘Monty’) is doing everything he can to get back to a farm. His parents sold their family farm and moved to Perth when Daniel was 10 in order to get more help and support for Daniel’s autistic brother Will and ever since then, everything Daniel has done has revolved around his dream of being able to own his own farm. He’s worked hard for years doing every job he could find and carefully saved all his money when his friends have been partying and holidaying. Now he thinks he finally has enough to go to the bank with a good deposit in order to get a loan to make his dream come true.
Faith has decided to embark on a charitable project, raising money to help fund companion dogs for autistic children and she has roped in many of the locals to help her, including Monty. The two have been friends since they were kids but now both of them are slightly startled by the distinctly more than friendly feelings they are having towards each other and when visiting Monty’s dream property together, a night of too much alcohol and a shared tent leads to a night of passion. Both of them are taken aback by this new direction and in their attempts to banish any awkwardness, only end up creating more. And although Monty now has a date with the girl he’s been chasing for months, he finds that he only has Faith on his mind.
Is it possible that what Faith and Monty have been looking for, the reason that neither of them have ever had a serious partner, is because what they want has been right in front of them all along?
Outback Dreams is Rachael Johns’ latest novel and the first of her Bunyip Bay trilogy. Faith has grown up in the town, departing only for boarding school and part of her university degree. Since the death of her mother from breast cancer, Faith and perhaps the whole family, have been in a sort of limbo. A tedious reunion for her school makes her realise this and that she wants to change something, do something meaningful. She vows to enter the Ms Alumna award, which celebrates the woman whose project has raised the most for charity. While Faith is vowing to change her life, her best friend Monty is about to do exactly that, finally able to secure a bank loan to fulfill his dream of purchasing his own farm.
One thing I love about all of Johns’ rural romances are the communities she creates within each one. I think I liked this one best of all – Bunyip Bay is full of characters you want to know more about, from the shy Ruby who clearly has something going on in her past, to Faith and Monty’s lovely friend Adam, to the elderly ladies that Monty has done work and odd jobs for. Luckily this is part of a trilogy (each installment with a new couple but with some threads of plot that run through all 3) so we will get to read much more about these wonderful people, who contribute so much to this story. Everyone pitches in to help Faith with the ball she decides to have in order to raise money for her chosen charity – it’s the sort of place you can imagine yourself living very easily.
Both Faith and Monty are incredibly well-rounded characters complete with some rather glaring flaws to flesh them out. Monty grew up the neurotypical or “normal” child in a family that also had an autistic child who needed so much more. He resents the fact that his parents sold the farm, the farm that would’ve been his in order to move to Perth and help Will get the support that he needed in order to live as full a life as possible. Monty has seethed on this for years and he rarely sees his family and Will and finds it hard to relate to his brother and is surprised to learn just how far Will has come in living a “normal” life with a job and even a girlfriend. Will is a highly functioning autistic who as a child would melt down at the vacuum cleaner, the jars in the pantry not being arranged, even having his hair washed. Will’s needs have coloured Monty’s life and he has a lot of inner resentment and anger over that. It creates difficulty between him and Faith after they decide to try a relationship, because Monty is adamant he wouldn’t sell his dream for anything. And to be a family, you need to put that first and not a property. I found that I could understand Monty’s feelings and sympathise with them even though I knew they weren’t healthy and that he needed to move past them and let it all go in order to be truly happy. He isn’t deliberately cruel, he honestly believes that he’s doing the right thing in making the decisions he does. I also really enjoyed the way Faith’s difficult relationship with her father was explored and the reasons why he found it so difficult to have her help on the farm. It seemed like he was treating her like a slave but he was doing the best he could to actually keep her on the property so that she didn’t have to leave. He didn’t know that she was so dissatisfied with her life and felt as though she’d accomplished nothing.
Outback Dreams is a fresh take on the friends to lovers story. Quite often one character has had long running feelings and the other is oblivious. In this one Faith and Monty genuinely only see each other as friends, almost siblings until their lives begin to change. Monty realises that he wants someone to go with the dream of his own farm and that the only person he can really see playing that role is Faith. Likewise, Faith finds that the Monty she thinks she sees is long gone and it’s a man in front of her, not a teenage boy. I think it works, because they both have hit a stage in life where what they want is different. They are looking for the same thing at the same time and they are quite honestly, made for each other. They just needed to see beyond the whole ‘best friends’ thing.
This is a complete story in its own right but it also lays the groundwork for the threads to continue running throughout the next 2 installments, Outback Blaze and Outback Ghost. Waiting is torture!
Book #193 of 2013
Outback Dreams is the 77th novel read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013