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She's gone ... will her family pull together, or fall further apart?

Delightful story of a family in turmoil — and how eldest daughter, Grace’s departure from Australia influences them to search deeper into the loss, regret and miscommunication that divides them. I hadn’t read Meredith Appleyard’s books before and was drawn to the themes of love, forgiveness, regret, grief—but more importantly, the multi-layering of family dynamics. It was a completely engaging story and based on my enjoyment level, I’d be happy to read another.

Told through the alternating voices of Grace, and her mother Sarah, this was such a joy to read — a dysfunctional family, torn apart by grief and the ripple effect that Grace’s youngest brother, Luke’s death has on all members of the family.

Grace is a financial analyst in merchant banking, returning home for the weekend to the small South Australian town of Miner’s Ridge, where the Fairley family have farmed the land for four generations. Grace is immediately reminded of the small town views and sentiments that endure when she arrives to tell the family of her planned move to London. But it’s the interplay of emotions and resurfacing of long-held resentments and family baggage that keeps this story moving seamlessly.

Sarah, Grace’s mother, left the family eight years ago following a breakdown in the aftermath of Luke’s death. Grace worries how the family will survive —with her in London, there is no one to link her mother to the family who have been closed to her for the past eight years. Typical family gripes and grudges soon re-emerge, as each try to navigate the rocky path of their life, carrying grief, past resentments and jealousy in varying degrees. However, this is a story of hope and resolution — the alternating voices avoid the story having too dark or sombre a mood overtake it.

Sarah is beautifully drawn on the page — her storyline, written in first person, truly defines the anguish of a mother torn apart by the grief of losing a son, and the snowball of events that lead her to become the outcast of the family. Husband, Doug, is closed, non-communicative and deeply resentful. But it is Appleyard’s beautiful linking of each member of the family’s stories that keep this story moving along.

The story really takes off when Grace meets her brother Tim’s friend, Aaron Halliday, and her ordered world begins to unravel as her feelings for him grow.

Grace is a strong and extremely likable character, used to order and organisation — the driving force of the family. As her long distance relationship progresses, Aaron points out that her family are all adults and capable of making their own decisions, without Grace’s interference — and Grace begins to look to her own needs.

Particularly pertinent at the time of reading, is that we are all in lockdown and have looked to technology as a way to further communicate with our loved ones. Grace and Aaron’s relationship begins with one weekend’s meeting — but continuing communication is necessitated via text messages, Facetime and phone calls, with Grace in London. Their burgeoning long-distance romance adds the spice to the story, offering hope and promise, albeit in a mostly non-physical sense.

Faith, pregnant and resentful, is the perfect spiky sister and opinionated daughter, while Tim is the lovable larrikin brother who begrudgingly works with his father on the farm following Luke’s death. Grace encourages him to stand up to their father, and to reach out to their mother.

The resolution of the family, while we are clearly led to the secret that Sarah unfolds, is the perfect conclusion. I really couldn’t put the When Grace Went Away down — I just longed to continue turning the pages.

NetGalley provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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