Review of The Sunnyvale Girls by Fiona Palmer
Last year, I read and loved Fiona Palmer’s The Sunburnt Country, so when Penguin asked me to read Palmer’s latest book, The Sunnyvale Girls, I jumped at the chance.
For those of you not familiar with Palmer’s work, she is the Queen of Australian Outback Romance, a genre of fiction she’s almost made her own. Her stories have such a strong connection to the land that it’s easy to lose yourself in the narrative and imagine yourself working the land on an enormous, Western Australian outback station. They are also jam-packed full of strong, self-sufficient heroines that make the closet-feminist in me stand up and cheer. I’m all for women finding a good man to love them unconditionally, but the whole “knight-in-shining-armour riding to the damsel’s rescue” is so passé.
The Sunnyvale Girls are three generations of Stewart women – recently widowed grandmother Maggie, daughter Toni and granddaughter Flick (Felicity). Together these three strong women are running Sunnyvale, a rural station in outback Western Australia.
When Flick finds some unopened letters hidden beneath the old cottage floor, she uncovers more than just a time capsule from the past – she unleashes a bunch of skeletons that have laid dormant for over 50 years.
The letters are from Rocco, an Italian prisoner of war who spent two years working at Sunnyvale during World War II – the real love of Maggie’s life and the one that ‘got away’. But what neither Toni nor Flick expected to hear is that Rocco is actually Toni’s real father.
They say you learn something new every day. I had no idea Australia took in prisoners of war, and sent them to work on the huge rural farms. I was really fascinated to read the historical aspects of the story.
The actual story itself takes place in both the present and the past. As Toni struggles to come to grips with finding out her past is a lie, we see what really happened from Maggie’s perspective, and experience the sweet romance unfolding between her and Rocco. I know some readers have complained about the split timelines but I loved it. Without the exploration of the past, the ending would have lacked its emotional punch.
I loved reading about Toni and Flick’s travels to Italy to track down Rocco. It was really obvious that Palmer had travelled to Italy herself, and had not just relied on the Internet or travel books for her research. Just as her descriptions of rural Australia transport you to the Aussie Outback, her descriptions of Italy transported me to Abruzzo and made it seem so real, I could almost taste the Italian delicacies myself.
I also loved that Palmer didn’t just give the reader one romance – she gave us three fully fleshed out romances. The enduring love story of Rocco and Maggie, the tenuous love affair of Toni and farmhand Jimmy, and the holiday romance of Flick and Stefano. As someone who loved all three romances, I feel like I really lucked out, but for those who don’t buy into all of them, you’ll at least have one love affair to cheer on.
The addition of another culture also lessened the heavy Australian slang present in most of Palmer’s books, which makes it an ideal first foray for a non-Australian wanting to read her novels, particularly as she takes more care to actually explain some of her Australian sayings.
Overall, a very decent book that got me a bit teary in a couple of places.
The Sunnyvale Girls is published by Penguin and is available through all good bookstores as well as through Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/Sunnyvale-Girls-Fiona-Palmer-ebook/dp/B00K2M5P4M
For more information on Fiona Palmer’s work, check out her website: http://www.fionapalmer.com/
Disclaimer: I received this review copy through Penguin.
Fiona Palmer has written a guest blog for The Writers Shack on the real Italian prisoner of war who inspired The Sunnyvale Girls.