The Secret of Southern Girls by Haley Harrigan
Rating : 2.5/5
Ten years ago, Julie Portland accidentally killed her best friend, Reba. What’s worse is she got away with it. Consumed by guilt, she left the small town of Lawrence Mill, Mississippi, and swore nothing would ever drag her back. Now, raising her daughter and struggling to make ends meet in Manhattan, Julie still can’t forget the ghost of a girl with golden hair and a dangerous secret.
When August, Reba’s first love, begs Julie to come home to find the diary that Reba kept all those years ago, Julie’s past comes creeping back to haunt her. That diary could expose the shameful memories Julie has been running from, but it could also unearth the hidden truths that Reba left buried…and reveal that Julie isn’t the only one who feels responsible for Reba’s death.
After plenty of false starts, I finally managed to complete reading this book recently. The false starts were owing to the poor interest generated in the first few chapters. My mind wandered off to other books in my TBR list leaving this book barely touched for quite some time. The book is mainly narrated from the point of view of Julie, the protagonist. There are also diary excerpts from Reba which fill the gaps in Julie’s narration. Extra information is added through the point of view of August and other characters.
Although the book has a very promising story line with plenty of scope for being an excellent and nail-biting novel, it sadly fizzles out towards the end primarily due to the characters themselves. Even though the nature of each character is described to the fullest and their relationships established, I felt that there was no life in any of the characters. They remained in the pages of the book alone and never went beyond that. So, even when the best friends got torn apart and true love destroyed, there was a lack of in-depth emotions being aroused in the reader. Reba also had diary entries which were windows to the internal turbulence faced by a girl who manages to lose her way and struggles with the consequence. Yet, the struggle did not feel real for me. I was unable to feel or relate to the gut wrenching emotions and lack of directions faced by the character even while reading her diary entries to which supposedly she had poured in all her feelings.
The story also has room for refinement. For instance, Julie and August travels to Lawrence Mill in search of some answers to what truly happened to Reba through her journal entry. Even though the author manages to pique the interest of the reader through the existence of a lost diary, the very same entries give away too much of the story such that the climax turns out to be far less shocking as what one would expect. Maybe a realignment of some of the diary entries with respect to the narration could have helped in keeping the readers hooked on till the very last moment to achieve a nail-biting climax.
Haley Harrigan shows promise as a debut novelist and some parts of the novel truly stands out due to her talented writing. She has a way with words and some of the sentences have a deep impact on the readers. Hopefully with a few minor changes this book can reach to where it aspired to be.
Only readers of young adult fiction need to try reading this book. If you are not a stickler for character formation, then you can try this book as a light read.