All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Lost Girls – Wendy James

on March 12, 2014

Lost GirlsThe Lost Girls
Wendy James
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 280p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

When the journalist approaches her, Jane doesn’t want to talk and she’s not happy that her daughter gave out her contact details. But Erin, the journalist, is quietly persuasive and Jane finds herself believing that there might be some value in talking about her experiences. It’s to help others, she tells herself. Erin is making a radio documentary on the impact on a family when a member is murdered. It’s supposed to be a tool to help others work through their grief.

Jane finds herself talking about a time long ago, when she was 12 and her cousin Angie 14. Angie was on the cusp of being truly stunning, already beautiful enough to turn heads everywhere but with the promise that she was going to blossom even more in the years to come. Both Jane and her brother Michael worshiped Angie and battled for her attention during the summer holidays when Angie was spending time with them. Angie reserved a little time with Jane, watching a movie or something but then they would walk up to the shop a couple of blocks away under the pretense of needing to buy cigarettes or milk or bread for one of Jane’s parents. Jane would linger as long as she dared and then make her way home with the items. Angie would stay and play pinball with Michael and some of his mates. She was older, the boys wanted her hanging around them. They didn’t want Jane.

Then one day, Angie never comes home. A massive search turns up her body several days later in bushland nearby. It sends shockwaves through not only Jane’s family but also the small and tightly knit northern beaches community, who believe that such things don’t happen in their area. Although Jane tells herself that she dealt with what happens to Angie, that they all did, she begins to wonder when Erin questions them all, Jane, her husband Paul, her brother Michael, her mother Barbara, about what happened to her and how they felt. Each of them have a different version of Angie that they remember, but which was the real one? And after all these years, will they finally find out who killed her?

A couple of years ago I read The Mistake by Wendy James which cemented me as a fan of her books. I also read one of her earlier novels, Out Of The Silence which was an entirely different setting but rife with the same sort of complex relationships and mystery that marked The Mistake. When I heard about this one, I couldn’t wait to read it. And right from the beginning, this story had me utterly engaged. Blended in a mix of past and present, it gives you Jane’s perspective of that summer, one that is tainted with how she felt for Angie, how much she admired her and wanted her attention. Jane was 12, on the edge of being a teenager but still just that little bit left behind, that much younger than Angie, Michael and all of Michael’s friends. Angie was granted more freedom, something that she had absolutely no problem taking, hanging around with the boys, playing pinball, occasionally stirring them up a bit with her good looks and incredible body. Angie partially inhabits a world Jane doesn’t understand yet, won’t understand for a few more years. She wants to go home and watch Elvis movies, not sure why Angie wants to do something different.

Angie’s disappearance affected her whole family deeply. Jane was devastated, Michael inconsolable. Jane and Michael’s mother felt a crippling guilt that this had happened on ‘her watch’ when she’d convinced Angie’s parents to come and let her stay for a while. Jane’s father was a cop and they believe he was probably privy to far more information than the rest of them. Jane’s feelings for Angie and the way that she seemed to draw admiration from men even coloured her relationships, including the one with her husband when she first began seeing him. For a while Jane almost tried to become Angie, dressing the way that Angie had and lightening her hair. It is undoubtedly cruel when someone so young has their life snuffed out, doesn’t have the potential to become someone, life a full life and I think Jane tried to compensate for that.

I wasn’t quite sure what to think of the character of Erin in the beginning, unsure of what her motivations were. They become quite clear throughout her own part of the story – Erin is seeking a justice she feels that no one cares about and she thinks that Angie’s relatives might hold the key to her getting the answers she needs. What she doesn’t expect is to find herself liking them (and perhaps vice versa too) and that maybe knowing all of the answers is going to be more difficult than she imagined. I enjoyed where this one went because I love a book that presents an interesting moral dilemma – there are two sides in this one and it would be fun to argue the debate with another person who’d read the book! There are some who would find it black and white and others who would be able to see all of the shades of grey.

The Lost Girls shows Wendy James’s true gift with exploring family dynamics and the subtle ways in which tragedy can wreak havoc, ways that may not even manifest until years after the fact. The writing is deft, the story easy to sink into and the setting is so quintessentially Australian that so much is recognisable from just about any childhood, even in a different decade. Another great story and now the countdown starts again to the next release.


Book #58 of 2014


The Lost Girls is book #22 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

2 responses to “Review: The Lost Girls – Wendy James

  1. Gede Prama says:

    Thank you for sharing and Greetings from Gede Prama 🙂

  2. […] reviewers including: Shellyrae at Book’d Out, Carol at Reading Writing and Riesling, Bree at All the Books I Can Read, Jess at The Never Ending Bookshelf, and Bernadette at Fair Dinkum […]

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