Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra
The regional Australian town of Colmstock is rife with desperation. Since the closing of the town’s automotive factory caused the job market to fall apart, much of the population has slumped into misery, including Rose Blakey’s family. Her mother now works at a grim poultry factory that leaves her too exhausted to care properly for Rose’s three younger siblings, and her long-haul trucker stepfather wants her to move the hell out – like, now. Rose, of course, can’t imagine anything better than doing exactly that: leaving her dusty hometown for the city, courtesy of the journalism cadetship she’s gone for at The Sage Review, a job she’s so confident about that she’s already packed. So when the rejection email comes through, and Rose is left with nowhere to live and no job to go to, she’s faced with the reality she can’t escape. A job pouring drinks for the cops and other customers at Eamon’s Tavern Hotel, avoiding the flirting of Senior Sergeant Frank Ghirardello, who spells out for her the doom that is Settling Down and Staying. The only way out that Rose can see comes through writing the journalistic scoop of a lifetime. And Colmstock has mystery to burn: in the aftermath of a deadly fire that killed a young boy, someone is leaving little porcelain dolls on the doorsteps of the little girls in town – dolls that look exactly like them. And so, keyboard at hand, Rose sets about investigating everyone in town, including the questionable yet fascinating Will, the hotel’s only resident. But Rose’s power in writing about these dolls may do more to the community – and bring more danger – than she ever expected.
Snoekstra – shortlisted for a Ned Kelly Award in 2017 for her debut work of fiction, Only Daughter – has created, with her hyperreal Australian style, a visceral world of heat, dust and sweat. With every moment detailed and crisply told, you can feel Rose’s need to escape – from Colmstock, from her stepfather, from her sticky, burning job. Rose can’t help but consider everyone around her as bleakly as she feels about the town, discarding their humanity and feelings in her quest to break through to the journalistic paradise she imagines. Much like the protagonist of Sarah Bailey’s bestseller The Dark Lake, the flawed character of Rose, who rails against everything that holds her to the community, elicits sympathy from readers who want her to escape, even though sometimes you want to reach into the pages and shake her. Full of twists, grit, and secrets not so very small at all, this is a sweltering summer read.