Tuesday 21 December 2021

Other Parents by Sarah Stovell #OtherParents @sarahlovescrime @HQStories @HarperCollinsUK @joe_thomas25 #BookReview


In a small town like West Burntridge, it should be impossible to keep a secret.

Rachel Saunders knows gossip is the price you pay for a rural lifestyle and outstanding schools. The latest town scandal is her divorce – and the fact that her new girlfriend has moved into the family home.

Laura Spence lives in a poky bedsit on the wrong side of town. She and her son Max don’t really belong, and his violent tantrums are threatening to expose the very thing she’s trying to hide.

When the local school introduces a new inclusive curriculum, Rachel and Laura find themselves on opposite sides of a fearsome debate.

But the problem with having your nose in everyone else’s business is that you often miss what is happening in your own home.

Other Parents by Sarah Stovell is published by HQ / HarperCollins on 20 January 2022. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

This is Stovell's fifth novel. I've been reading her work since way back in 2009 and have enjoyed everything she's published. I've been really looking forward to seeing just what she's conjured up for her readers this time. 

So, it's dark; we could call it #SchoolgateNoir or #SmallTownNoir as it's set in a small town and the main characters are all connected to the local school. What it really is, is an insightful and often scathing study about women. About how they behave toward one another, about how much they hide and how much they allow themselves to really be true. It's about the effect of adult behaviour on young people and it's about bigotry and ignorance. It's also very very funny in places, with some characters who I secretly want to be just like (hello Rachel!), and some who I felt desperately sorry for and one who I just hated (oh dear Kate!).

Rachel Saunders is intelligent, outspoken and successful. She's a mother of three, lives in one of the nicest houses in town and has just replaced her long-term husband Will, also the father of her children, with her girlfriend Erin. This sent shock waves through the usually conservative, ordinary town and is destroying her relationship with her daughters, especially eldest Maia.

Stovell tells her story through the voices of five of the main players; Rachel, Jo (the head of the school), Erin, Laura and Maia. This is a great way to see all sides of what can be a grubby, uncomfortable story at times. Each character is created so very well, from Rachel with her determination to bring about equality in all parts of life, to downtrodden Laura - single mother to Max; a small boy with enormous needs.

The incident that sparks the biggest debate is when Laura and Kate (a pompous, vile, PTA mum) decide that they don't want their children to be taught about homosexual relationships. Their blinkered view is painful to read about, but anyone who reads the comments on social media will realise that their thoughts are widespread in this country, despite our inclusive laws and supposed acceptance of all. Obviously, Rachel takes this personally and the battle lines are drawn.

Whilst this is going on, sixteen-year-old Maia is dealing with her own insecurities. She's bright, beautiful and popular but is damaged by something she sees at home. Her only way of dealing with this is her own form of self harm; not the norm, but equally as damaging as taking a knife to her skin, and her actions opens up more heartache, especially for Jo, the head of the school. 

I could talk more about the developments in the plot and the issues dealt with in Other Parents, but I fear my review could become as long as the book itself! I will say that it is a gripping, entertaining read that I struggled to put down once I'd started. Stovell excels in creating female characters who are totally flawed at times. She doesn't shy away from bad behaviours and I think most readers may see a bit of themselves in at least one of the lead players in this story. 

This is a sharp, relatable, hilarious and heart-breaking novel that I will remember for a long time. Highly recommended by me. 

Sarah Stovell was born in Kent in 1977 and now lives in Northumberland with her partner and two children. 

She has an MA and a PhD in creative writing and is a lecturer in creative writing at Lincoln University. 

She is the author of four previous novels, Mothernight, The Night Flower, Exquisite and The Home. 

Exquisite was chosen by The Times as one of the top 40 crime novels of the past 50 years.

Twitter @sarahlovescrime

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