Believe in Me

Lucy Neave

Believe in Me
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Believe in Me

Lucy Neave

As a teenager in the 1970s, Sarah is forced to leave her home in upstate New York to accompany a missionary to Idaho. When she falls pregnant, she is dispatched to relatives in Sydney, who place her in a home for unmarried mothers. Years later her daughter, Bet, pieces together her mother’s life story, hoping to understand her better. As she learns more about Sarah’s past, Bet struggles to come to terms with her own history and identity, yet is determined to make peace with Sarah’s choices before it’s too late.

Lucy Neave’s moving and deeply personal second novel, Believe in Me, explores the relationships between mothers and their children across three generations of one family. The book questions what we can ever truly know of our parents' early lives, even as their experiences weave ineffably into our identities and destinies.


When American teenager Sarah is sent away on a mission with the married pastor of her family’s church, Sarah’s mother, Greta, tells her: ‘don’t worry about us. Be as free as a bird, as a fox. You know?’ These parting words seem to act as a curse, as the trip will ensure Sarah is never truly free again. Sarah falls pregnant and is sent away to Sydney, where it is assumed she will have the baby, abandon it to the care of some seemingly benevolent nuns at a home for unwed mothers, and return to her family in Poughkeepsie. Assisted by the sphinx-like midwife, Dora, Sarah instead takes her baby girl to Adelaide.

Years pass and Sarah is an enigma to her adult daughter Bethany (Bet), who longingly seeks clues about her mother in the scrapbooks Sarah has kept all her adult life. Conflicted by her mother’s attempts to show love, and by her deception, Bet struggles to define her own identity, acutely aware of her dissimilitude to her mother.

Can we ever really know our parents? As parents, can we ever really know our children? Lucy Neave’s labyrinthic disquisition of a unique mother–daughter relationship is a deeply affecting, wholly engrossing rumination on the various lenses through which we are viewed, depending on the nature of our relationships. We cannot choose our families; nor can we choose how the traumas inflicted on those responsible for shaping our view of the world can also, in turn, shape who we become. With Believe in Me, Neave reminds us there is great healing to be found by carefully listening to the stories of strangers and the people we think we know.

Tye Cattanach is a bookseller for Readings Carlton.

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