All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Happiest Little Town by Barbara Hannay

on August 8, 2022

The Happiest Little Town
Barbara Hannay
Penguin Random House AUS
2022, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Happiness has a way of catching up with you, even when you’ve given up trying to find it.

Tilly doesn’t believe she can ever be happy again

Fourteen-year-old Tilly’s world is torn apart when her single mother dies suddenly and she is sent a million miles from everything she has ever known to a small country town and a guardian who’s a total stranger.

Kate is sure she will be happy just as soon as she achieves her dream.

In the picturesque mountains of Far North Queensland, Kate is trying to move on from a failed marriage by renovating a van and making plans for an exciting travel escape. The fresh start she so desperately craves is within reach when an unexpected responsibility lands on her doorstep.

Olivia thinks she’s found ‘happy enough’ until an accident changes everything.

Ageing former celebrity actress Olivia is used to winning all the best roles in her local theatre group, but when she’s injured while making a grand stage exit, she is relegated to the wings. Now she’s determined that she won’t bow out quietly and be left alone with the demons of her past.

When these lost souls come together under the roof of the Burralea Amateur Theatre group, the countdown to opening night has already begun. Engaging with a diverse cast of colourful characters, the three generations of women find unlikely friendship – and more than one welcome surprise.

A new Barbara Hannay book is always cause to celebrate. They’re such comfort reads for me, feel good stories with wonderful characters and set in places that I wished I lived. This one is really no exception.

Primarily the story centres around three people: 14yo Tilly who was orphaned after her mother died recently. She’s never met her father and her mother’s boyfriend, while he cares for her, feels that he is not an appropriate guardian and would never be seen as such by authority figures anyway. Then there’s Kate, who is divorced, in her 50s with her own children grown and living their own lives. She’s renting a place in a town in the Northern Tablelands of Queensland as a base while she fits out a former tradie van so that she can go travelling around the country. And then there’s Olivia, a 70-something actress who is forced to confront her own mortality and future after injuring herself in rehearsals for a local play. The arrival of Tilly into the area turns everything Kate had planned for her future on its head and at first Olivia isn’t sure why it’s been suggested she help Tilly in terms of acting. What could she and a young teenage girl hope to get out of a friendship? But all of the women are going to be surprised.

I have to admit, I had a few feelings of trepidation after starting this because I do not feel what happened to Kate was at all fair – nor should it be legal. However I couldn’t find anything concrete that suggested it wasn’t! So it appears that while not ideal….it’s something that could actually happen. Whilst I see why Tilly’s mother made the choice she did, probably believing that it wouldn’t ever need to come to fruition, I do still feel that it wasn’t a fair choice, for anyone concerned, even if it probably did end up being the best choice she could’ve made at the time.

The circumstances in which Kate and Tilly come into each other’s lives definitely made me sympathetic to the both of them. Tilly is at such an impressionable age (she’s the same age as my eldest son who turns 14 next week) and she’s had her entire life as she knew it, completely turned upside down. It’s mostly been her and her mother her whole life and it seems like they had an incredibly wonderful and close relationship. Now her mother is gone and she’s had to go and live somewhere else with someone she didn’t know existed beforehand in a completely different town where she has no friends. And for Kate? She’s done with raising her children in a hands-on fashion. She has her own plans for the future and definitely didn’t count on becoming a guardian.

Tilly’s fear and uncertainty, her grief all shone through the pages. I felt like this really nailed a teen who has been through so much and was feeling lost and like she had nowhere she fit in. She just desperately needs a bit of stability and some inclusion and although she and Kate get off to a rough start, eventually the two of them muddle through it and the introduction of Tilly to the local theatre group also helps enormously as it gives Tilly a feeling of belonging and something that she is passionate about. Her friendship with Olivia becomes something precious too, like a surrogate grandmother-granddaughter relationship which benefits them both as neither of them have those relations.

I loved this whole town and the other residents that we got to meet. I’d love if we got to revisit this town in a future book, maybe revisit Tilly too, as she gets older. I think there’s a lot of potential to explore more about it, if the author ever wanted to do that. I loved the budding romance for Kate and the ways in which we got to know Olivia and understand the things that had happened in her past. And why the three of them ended up becoming quite close, something that you know will continue to develop after the end of the story that forms this book. I loved Kate’s ‘van life’ component (makes me wonder if Barbara Hannay watched some of the same people on YouTube that I do, as I started watching a lot of this sort of thing in lockdown!)

This was everything I expected and now I eagerly await the next release.

9/10

Book #136 of 2022


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