Title: The Sunnyvale Girls
Author: Fiona Palmer
Opening line: “…The screeching of galahs in the early morning sounded like church hymns…”
Blurb: Three generations of Stewart women share a deep connection to their family farm, but a secret from the past threatens to tear them apart. Widowed matriarch Maggie remembers a time when the Italian prisoners of war came to work on their land, changing her heart and her home forever. Single mum Toni has been tied to the place for as long as she can recall, although farming was never her dream. And Flick is as passionate about the farm as a young girl could be, despite the limited opportunities for love. When a letter from 1946 is unearthed in an old cottage on the property, the Sunnyvale girls find themselves on a journey deep into their own hearts and all the way across the world to Italy. Their quest to solve a mystery leads to incredible discoveries about each other, and about themselves.
My thoughts: I first met author Fiona Palmer back in March 2014 when I read her short story THE EMPTY NEST, it was fabulous. So I was chuffed to receive an advanced copy of her latest release THE SUNNYVALE GIRLS, a delightful and absorbing story about relationships, cover-ups and self-discovery. Back in WWII, when the family matriarch, Maggie, was in her teens, her father took on two Italian prisoners of war to help out on Sunnyvale farm – a sheep and wheat property located in Western Australia. Despite Maggie’s mother hating the men and doing everything in her power to keep Maggie away from them – Maggie fell in love with Rocco, and he with her. He was deported when the war ended but he promised to return so they can marry. She never hears from him and now almost 70 years Maggie works the farm with her daughter Toni and granddaughter Flick. It is Flick who finds a stash of letters hidden under the floorboards of the old cottage that she is renovating and Maggie now has to tell her daughter the truth about the past.
Maggie, Toni and Flick are all very strong characters. All three of them have spent all their life on the farm; Maggie and her husband taking over from her father when her brother moved to the city. Maggie’s husband has now died, but before his death Toni took on the responsibility of the farm when her father became ill. Toni is a single mother and her life is the farm as she doesn’t have time for men. She regrets not travelling; not seeing what is out there in the big world. Toni wants her daughter Flick to travel even though Flick wants nothing more than to work the farm. So three ladies all disappointed, all looking for change – whether they realised it or not. The discovery of the letters brings change and adventure into the lives and Toni and Flick very quickly find themselves in Italy looking for answers. They do find what they are looking for, but they also make important self-discoveries about what they really want from life.
I had no idea that Australia brought Italian POWs back here from Europe to be held while war raged. I did know that Australian Italians were interned in camps here, so while some of the POWs joined them in camps – others were sent out to properties as cheap labour, helping local farmers, whose boys were fighting over in Europe, work the land. I loved reading about Toni and Flick’s travels through Italy Fiona Palmer’s descriptions were so evocative as too her descriptions of outback WA. I really got a strong sense of place. The three women took turns in telling the story – Maggie’s telling about life back in the 1940s while Flick and Toni brought the story to the present day. And I know you shouldn’t have favourites but I really did relate to Toni – she has had it tough and she had to the greatest adjustment to reach her happy ever after moment.
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B – Great. I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.
With thanks to Penguin Books and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.