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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Review: The Secret World of Connie Starr

Title: The Secret World of Connie Starr
Author: Robbi Neal

Publisher: 1st June 2022 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA

Pages: 384 pages

Genre: historical fiction

My Rating: 3 crowns


A stunning evocation of Australian life through the war to the 1950s, this novel is intimate and sweeping, immediate and dreamlike - a magical rendering of darkness and joy, and the beauty inherent in difference. 

Connie Starr was always a difficult child. Her mother knew as soon as Connie entered the world that day in Ballarat in 1934 and opened her lungs to scream, there was more chaos in the world than before and it wouldn't leave until Connie did. From the safety of a branch high in her lemon tree where she speaks to angels, she sees the world for what it is - a swirling mass of beauty and darkness, of trauma and family, of love and war and truth and lies - lies that might just undo her and drive her to a desperate act.

This ambitious, complex and insightful novel intertwines numerous stories of lives from before World War II and beyond, recreating with intimacy and breadth a world that is now lost to us. This book is a brightly coloured patchwork quilt of everything from shoes to polio, lemon trees to rivers, death to life that melds into one beautiful, luminous work of art.

My Thoughts

The Secret World of Connie Starr is an Australian historical drama set from 1939 to 1955 and covers a wide range of topics and social issues of the era. It provides a window into what life was like living in a small town during WWII and the years immediately after. 

‘Connie, sitting on her branch, picked herself a lemon and sucked out the sweet juice and sat there, hidden, watching the world from her secret place. Because that was how Connie was in the world: apart.’

With Connie spending time high in her lemon tree she observes family, friends and neighbours going about their daily lives - and it is these lives that the book highlights more than Connie herself. Connie is but one character and a solid explanation behind her secret world is amiss. Rather it is with this large cast of characters that all events of the various challenges of living are played out. At times it is hard to keep your head engaged with them all and what occurs. It is interesting from the historical perspective of living through the Depression, war years and beyond. I wanted to enjoy it more but not being drawn to anyone in particular it was a challenge to get through at times. 

‘Oh, Connie,’ he murmured. ‘I love that you see things other people don’t see, that you write your own story.’

This is a book about life in Australia during this time period - the many hardships, love and laughter, secrets and sadness. Connie does not fit in and lacks support from those around her and suffers accordingly. Through these events readers get to witness how ordinary people coped and survived. Sad and nostalgic, informative and revealing of a time from the past. 

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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