Lead Us Not

Abbey Lay

Lead Us Not
Penguin Random House Australia
5 March 2024

Lead Us Not

Abbey Lay

'When we spoke, I never knew what Olive would reveal to me. There were nights where she would lie next to me and pour herself out into the darkness, and others where it seemed she was hardly there at all.'

Millie is in her final year at a Catholic girls' school, subdued by the conformity of her life and her parents' quiet pain. But when her schoolmate Olive moves in next door, it marks the beginning of an intoxicating friendship that changes everything. In all the ways Millie feels unsure and half-formed, Olive, an aspiring actor from a devoutly Catholic family, seems at ease with her place in the world.

On the precipice of freedom, the two young women seize nights out and a school retreat as opportunities to further their own increasingly uncertain ends. Olive urges Millie on in her sexual encounters, but Millie is only becoming more consumed by Olive. When they're not staying up all night talking, they're watching each other from their bedroom windows - their selves are becoming blurred, their lives intimately mirrored.

That makes it all the more excruciating when, seemingly out of nowhere, Olive cuts off all contact. For all her efforts, Millie cannot understand what's changed between them. Has she missed something? Or was their friendship, for Olive, just another performance?

An emotionally charged novel of expectation, compulsion and desire, Lead Us Not charts the unseen currents of tension and control that shape a friendship.


Millie is in her final year of high school at ‘Our Lady’s’, a Catholic school that Abbey Lay ensures is dripping with recognisable details of at least an element of every Australian’s education experience. The school is not our – nor Millie’s – focus though, as she grapples with the guilt and comfort of breezing through assessments without ‘effort’. No, our focus is Olive.

Olive is an enigma of theatre studies and strikingly blunt, philosophical conversations. She’s also Millie’s neighbour. As they become friends, Millie finds herself enamoured. School is naught but a way to see Olive, high school dating but a way to connect with her. The two girls bond over discussions of new sexual experiences. As Millie is allowed into Olive’s home, she notices some oddities about Olive’s rather traditional family, oddities she can’t quite place, and wonders how much Olive herself is influenced by them.

Lead Us Not is the kind of book I pick up and ravenously tear through, before falling back into reality when I see ‘Acknowledgements’ listed on the next page. It is incredibly immersive, and you never know more than Millie does – thus tension is ever-present. We equally experience her confusion, and her resigned frustration at what is in front of us, just out of reach. Her all-consuming devotion to her new friend is understandable, even admirable. Lay crafts an insular, intoxicating narrative that will keep you absorbed until the very last page.

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