Darling Girls

Some families are not connected by blood but forged by love, concern, and trauma, as in the case of the three Australian women in Sally Hepworth's emotionally gripping Darling Girls.

Jessica Lovat, Norah Anderson, and Alicia Connelly became sisters when they were placed as children in the Wild Meadows Farm foster home under Holly Fairchild's watch. "Miss Fairchild," as the girls called her, initially seemed loving and kind, especially to Jessica, the first to arrive. But Fairchild's anger and abusive nature soon erupted. Each girl learned that the slightest disobedience, display of friendship amongst themselves, or even laughter could result in Fairchild forcing them to go hungry or locking them in the basement. More than 25 years have passed since the three left foster care. While they have all reinvented themselves, Jessica, Norah, and Alicia still harbor emotional scars that become more prominent when the police contact them. Human bones have been found under Wild Meadows' razed farmhouse. Now, the sisters must travel from Melbourne back to Port Agatha and dredge up their childhood memories as the police investigate who the bones belong to.

Hepworth's (The Good Sister; The Mother-in-Law) tightly coiled plot exposes problems in Australia's foster care system, exacerbated by overworked social workers and a lack of oversight. Darling Girls (which is also Fairchild's affectionate and contemptuous nickname for the trio) flawlessly illustrates each girl's backstory, how they entered foster care, and how vulnerable they were to the system's failings, showing how their pasts shaped the adults they became. A stunningly clever twist elevates the intense plot. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer

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