Cover Image: The Far Away Girl

The Far Away Girl

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Rita is an animal loving, carefree seven year old when her father remarries and she meets her stepmother for the first time. Soon animals are banned from the house and Rita is pushed out by her new sibling. She yearns to find out the truth about her mother who she cannot remember. Can she persuade her father to admit the truth...?
The Far Away Girl is beautifully written. It wonderfully evokes the Guyana culture, geography and society. I found the descriptions lovely but they did lengthen the book considerably in my opinion. There is also an important message about conservation and respecting nature.
The book is divided into 3 parts. The first is Rita's childhood, often unhappy as she struggles to find affection from her stepmother. The second her teenage years as she tries to express her burgeoning femininity. The third is her young adulthood as she strives to follow her heart. In each section she needs to adapt to circumstances and the behaviour of others including her stepmother, boyfriends and her extended family.
It is sad that there is so much darkness in this book which features such a bright and vibrant setting. Rita suffers in her personal relationships due to racial prejudice and her illegitimacy. Luckily, Rita is brave and has an inner strength that radiates from her in spite of the troubles she faces.
I felt so angry with Rita's father Jitty. He admits he is a coward but his selfish and thoughtless actions affect so many characters in the book. The final part of the book is tragic as we discover the truth about Rita's mother Cassie and the circumstances in which she went to live with her father.
The Far Away Girl is a book full of contrast, love and heartache, selfishness and selflessness, cowardice and conviction.
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This book is a little hard for me to rate. I found the first 20-30(ish)% hard to get into. So much so, I was contemplating calling it a day. However, I pressed on and the next 60(ish)% was much better. Then we got to the last 10(ish)% and I again found it lacking. I am not sure what it is lately with books and endings that just seem so abrupt or unfinished. Maybe I read too much romance and now expect a nice, neat, "wrapped in a bow" ending. I don't know, but the ending on this one just felt SO abrupt. I wanted MORE. A further in the future look at what Rita's life looked like. Anyway, so yeah, this one was a mixed bag for sure....
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I reviewed this book for Historical Novels Review, the magazine of the Historical Novel Society, and per their policy I cannot post my review online until after it is published in the magazine in May 2021.  I will update the review after that date.
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Y'all know I love a story to takes me to a new place!  This novel did just that.  I couldn't tell you where Guyana is located on a map but I loved learning about it through Rita, Jita and Cassie's story.  This story has all the feels and gives you great characters to root for and to loathe.  I definitely recommend this story to anyone who loves a multi-generational story or who enjoys learning about far off places.
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The Far Away Girl by Sharon Maas was one of the saddest stories I have read to date. Our main character is Rita. She is a mixed race girl growing up in Guyana without a mother. She lives with her father, but that's about all she gets from her father is a place to live. Rita for the most part entertains herself by taking in any strays that come into her yard or that she hears about from neighbors. The activity of Rita taking in strays and caring for those who cannot take care of themselves mirrors her life throughout the novel. 

Rita's father and mother met and conceived her at a very young age and where not exactly prepared for her arrival. Her mother, Cassie, made the necessary preparations to be ready for Rita's arrival, while her father, Jitty, continued with the lifestyle he had been living. Jitty left the responsibility of Rita completely up to Cassie, that is until tragedy struck. 

I found myself disgusted with Rita's father, Jitty. Not once in the story did he ever do anything for the benefit of Rita. Rita is left to her own devices, except in instances where Jitty would directly benefit. Her behaviour throughout her school years reflects that of a child that doesn't get attention at home. Rita's neighbors in fact give her more attention than her own father does. I wanted to feel compassion for Jitty, being that he lost his mother and father at a young age and maybe did not have a good example of how to be a parent, but Jitty had his grandmother and aunt as guardians and Sharon Maas illustrates that they were involved in his rearing. 

The Far Away Girl does end on a good note for Rita. She does find the family life she needs and deserves and from everything she has been through has zero problem empathizing with any person or animal she comes in contact with, no matter what they are going through. The Far Away Girl taught me that we are not defined by how we were raised, but how we choose to interact with our envrionments. 

Thanks to Netgalley and Bookouture for an advanced copy for an honest review.
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I’m new to this author. The Far Away Girl is a fantastic book, an emotional tear-jerker that gripped my heart and refused to let go. I will check out more of the author’s work. The author is not afraid of tackling big issues and this book touches on racism, prejudice, self-discovery, growing up to name a few. This is an excellent story, well told, intense and moving. I fell in love with everything about it. I loved Rita as a character and loving spending time with her as she grows up and learns some harsh truths about the world. I’m not familiar with the setting of the book and the author does an impressive job of bringing the world, people and society to life.  This is a remarkable book.
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The Faraway Girl sees Sharon Maas returning to the exotic South American country of Guyana, the setting of some of her earlier books. Instantly I knew that this would be a very good read and the more the book progressed I could tell that the author felt so comfortable writing in this setting because she was using her own memories of the country and she knew it so very well. She recreated a world that was part of her and it showed. In the end notes she mentions how her last few books required a lot of research because they were set in Europe during the war but here it was easier as she was delving back into her memories. I sense this story just flowed onto the page whilst she was writing it and that she enjoyed the time spent writing about Rita. I did enjoy her last few books set in Europe but I just felt it just wasn’t what the author was used to writing about and at times it showed. 

Now we are back on familiar territory and The Faraway Girl is a brilliant coming of age story that transport you to an alluring, colourful, vivid country yet one with its own history and struggles. Similar to the difficulties and confusion that abound for Rita. Rita is an incredible character and it’s testament to such brilliant, engrossing writing that you do connect with her so much given for most of the novel she is a young girl and then we follow her teenage years. She lives with her father Jitty in Georgetown, her mother Cassie having died when she was a baby. Rita is of mixed race and this is something that presents many challenges and questions for her as the years pass by and we journey with her through ups and downs ad struggles both physical and emotional. 

She is only six when we are first introduced to her but it’s easy to see she has an indominable spirit. She is fiery, self-sufficient and her love for all creatures great and small is evident with every turn of the page. Rita is more or less allowed to run feral and do what she wants. She is not your typical young girl but yet there is something that really draws the reader into her world and her mind. She is confused over not knowing her mother. She hates the fact that her father is so absent both in mind and body and promises are always broken. Rita is a survivor. She has learnt to go out there on her own into the gardens and the surrounding neighbourhood and fend for herself to explore and discover what is on offer to her inquisitive mind. These areas are what shape and mould her and the children she meets and the friends she makes and then perhaps distances herself from all really add to Rita’s story.

Yet there is also a softer side to her, one which she reluctantly shows every know and again. When Jitty introduces Chandra, as her new stepmother, she feels even more abandoned as if she doesn’t matter to anyone anymore. Chandra imposes rules and regulations and tries to curb the free spirit that is Rita. She does not like to be controlled or curtailed. This complex, deep and meaningful need within her really needs to be listened in order to understand and have her questions answered but this is never forthcoming.

Every so often we have chapters from Jitty’s viewpoint where he recollects his history, and he too struggled since he was left in the care of his grandma when his family were killed in a car accident. We learn how he met Cassie and theirs is an intriguing but problematic love story as they have to deal with family traditions, rules and regulations that impose on their unity. It was fascinating to read about this because it helped me understood even more what Rita was experiencing and really how Jitty couldn’t open up and tell his daughter everything she desperately needed to know in order to make sense of her place in the world. She couldn’t understand why Jitty was so secretive, forgetful and never spoke of her mother. He has deep secrets, hidden flaws, and has made slips ups and bad decisions. Yet for most of the book he does not seem to feel an urgent need to rectify them in order to help Rita. Instead this tough, caustic, defensive attitude of self preservation increases within Rita as she grows older and she battles with her identity. This really comes across in the friendships and relationships she forms and it is hard to read her and understand some of her actions.

I found at times the book went off on tangents away from the main plot and normally this would really frustrate me as quite often said tangents add nothing to the overall story but rather detract from it. Here this wasn’t the case at all but rather it added to the overall picture being built up. The insight into Jitty every so often helped mould the plot even further as we came to know more about his mannerisms, upbringing and his mind and it was truly fascinating. Similar to Rita he battles with his conscience and what he knows is the right thing to do but he doesn’t listen to his mind and follow the right path. Instead he has created confusion and Rita’s quest to understand her family, her heritage and her own sense of self only further intensifies instead of her being told the truth which would allow comfort, acceptance and a new stage of her life to begin. Rita has always felt like a slice of her life is missing and if you have this solidity in your own life you wonder how she must feel. But her feelings and emotions do jump off the page and sharing her diary entries with the reader really helps with this.

When Rita comes to know of her family in Pomeroon, an area deep in rural Guyana, she believes finding the spirit of her mother will provide her with the answers she seeks. That branch of the family have tried to communicate in the past and there is certainly something there that she needs to discover but it has been shut off from her for so long. Through Jitty’s actions of non contact or Rita’s refusal to meet an aunt who lives in Georgetown, either way in the later half of the book Rita’s remarkable journey takes many turns as she journeys to the Pomeroon. 

Here the author’s vivid descriptions of a country so colourful and exotic and so vastly different to ours really help us understand the experiences and emotions Rita is going through. The countryside is vast and filled with sights, sounds, animals and visions Rita has had no experience of. Why was she so cut off from everything? Why has Jitty been such a closed book when it comes to her mother? Why can he not provide her with the answers and peace of mind she deserves? Will Rita experience something there that will transform her thought process and take her in a direction she never deemed possible? I loved the scenes set in Pomeroon, you could see the changes occurring within Rita that were also manifesting themselves on the outside. Her sense of worthlessness disappears and although the path she still has to thread remains difficult and mired with obstacles she may have the strength to reach the other side. The Faraway Girl was a wonderful story and for me I feel Sharon Maas has returned to top form. More like this please in the future.
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This book is beautifully written!

I've never been to gyuana before but the way it's described in this book feels like I've been transported there!

Its set in the 1970s and tells the story of a girl called Rita who lost her mother due to mysterious circumstances.

I loved this book and won't hesitate to read more from this author in the future
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I haven't read any books by this author previously but will definitely be adding some to my shelf. Not as easy to follow as I would like, it still was a beautiful story and I can't help but love historical fiction like this.
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From the very first page of this book, I was enthralled by Rita’s character. Writing in her diary (replete with spelling errors), this 7 year old records her strong feelings of anger at her new stepmother’s attempt to rid the house of Rita’s beloved dogs and ants! A strong minded child, Rita is trying to come to terms with moving from the complete freedom that her loving but absent father allowed her to house ruled by her stepmother.

Her father, Jitty is a feckless character, who though good-intentioned can never keep his promises. Her stepmother, fooled into thinking that he’s rich marries him. She had no idea that his daughter was of mixed heritage and tries to avoid being seen in Rita’s company.

Rita is saved in some ways by her neighbour and her daughter, but still struggles with the pain and unanswered questions of what happened to her mother, Cassie. Her father refuses to give her details, and any relatives from her mother’s side are turned away. Yet these aunts continue to send her toys at first and then books and cards which she doesn’t respond too. She does enjoy the books though.

In this coming of age story, we see Rita struggling with unanswered questions, facing racial prejudice because of her curly hair, not getting enough of attention from her family and always feeling like a part of her is missing. The whispers about her being a ‘bastard’ and the cause of her mother’s death, leave her feeling guilty and confused.

When an older Rita finally journeys to her mother’s family home, she feels enveloped in the love of her grandmother, grandfather, aunts and cousins. However, she still doesn’t get the answers she’s looking for.

The author has done a great job of telling this story from different perspectives. I enjoyed the vivid descriptions, the very credible characters and the deeper issues of cultural and racial prejudice that were touched upon.

This is a story that tugs at your heart. A story of loss, weak characters, bad parenting, deep prejudice but overall a story of love that can truly overcome hurt and prejudice.

I absolutely enjoyed this read that made me smile at certain parts and moved me deeply too.
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I enjoyed how this book captured both the time and spirit of a country that seems exotic to the outsider yet is anything but to the local inhabitants. I was grabbed by Rita and wanted to adopt her, yet her mother's story is even sadder. I learnt a lot about the political situation in Guyana at the time even if the tone at times seemed to detract from the story. However, the story itself is both harrowing and wonderful and well worth a read.
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Book Review 💫 
The Far Away Girl by Sharon Maas

This was my 4th book by the author and one that I was excited to get as an arc. The culture and history that seeps through her novels has always drawn me in. She was born in Guyana but became a woman of the world when England, Germany and Ireland helped shape her path. The connection to her living in Germany for 40 years was also one that made me pick up her novel as I remember being that new immigrant supporting her hubby’s career in a new country with a new language to figure out. 

This novel was a slow build up for me. Rita (the young girl/teen) is the daughter of a mixed race background. Her father is Indian and her mother has Amerindian/Black roots that contribute to her lack of not knowing where she belongs. Her mom isn’t in the picture (no spoilers as you don’t find out till the end) and her father has remarried a woman who verbally abused Rita from the time she meets the young girl. 

This book is Rita’s journey into her past and uncovering her secrets that both her Granma and Father kept hidden. I enjoyed it but if you’re going to read one of her novels, I suggest you start with one of her others as you’ll come to understand her writing. “Of Marriagable Age” was my top of the four I’ve read of hers. 

The Far Away Girl was published on Tuesday and is available everywhere. Thank you @plumepublishers and netgalley for the gifted copy in return for an honest review.
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This was such a wonderful book, one that will be talked about by so many and for such a long time. I was enraptured by Rita’s character and loved watching her grow, from her spunk to her liveliness, to her personality and beliefs. In fact, my favorite parts of the novel were those that were from her point of view. The history told in this novel was fascinating to me, especially told from Rita’s perspective. The author demonstrated such talent describing the scenery and characters, I could easily envision both as I was reading, as if I were watching a movie and not reading a book - that really impressed me. Examples of this are Rita’s experiences in the different locations - I can picture it easily in my mind and could feel a shimmer of the exhilarating emotion similar to what she likely felt. The characters, especially Rita, were so lively, so colorful, they have such personalities! I loved watching Rita flourish, grow, and mature, to be happy about herself inside and out. I feel like playing with the ants when she was young to being part of the release of the turtles was even symbolic. To me, the ending was perfect, I loved it.
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https://www.lifeofafemalebibliophilThis is my first time reading a novel by Sharon Maas and I enjoyed it. The Far Away Girl is a mixture of Literary and Historical Fiction that follows the main character Rita as she grows up and experiences life, loss, change, and a long journey of self-discovery. Readers follow her narrative from childhood to adulthood and how life’s events shape her into the woman she becomes.

It’s a bit hard to discuss this novel without giving too much away, but I thought that it was a beautiful and bittersweet tale overall. It was hard for me to grasp the story at first since the book moves at a slower place. Once I was a quarter way into the novel significantly picked up. The time jumps were a bit unclear in the beginning but got smoother as the plot progessed. It’s packed with a lot of history that I was unfamiliar with and I was glad I got to learn more about Guyana’s background through reading it. I also liked the subtle shifts in point-of-view to give some of the other secondary characters depth.

Maas is a lyrical writer that gives detailed description to her readers. I felt the sand on my feet when Rita goes to the beach, the tropical climate of the land, and the inner turmoil of her characters. She tackles a lot of topics within the narrative such as race and prejudice. I could feel Rita’s struggle to fit in while also feeling like she has a missing piece of her. She’s different from others and it leaves her feeling conflicted at first and then stronger later in life. I like that she was confident but vulnerable, and most importantly that she never changed herself for anyone. She has an infectious spirit even though she’s dealt with tragedy and obstacles and she refuses to let anyone break her down.

The Far Away Girl is a heartbreaking, powerful, and moving story that I would recommend to those who enjoy thought-provoking Historical Fiction.

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Thank you to @netgalley and @bookouture for this ARC in return for an honest review.

What an incredibly descriptive and beautifully written book! I literally devoured it in two days. The words turned into images in my head and I quite easily became oblivious to everything around me as I drifted into the beauty of Guyana, Pomeroon, Shell Island and Kaieteur Falls. This isn’t a fast paced book, but I’m glad, because it enabled me to absorb and connect better with the events as they unfolded. You could really tell that the author has a close resonance and love for Guyana and her experience shines through in her choice of words and the depth of the narrative.

Rita came to live with her dad Jitty when she was 5 years old. However, this isn’t just the coming of age story of a little girl who discovers herself... it’s a story of human strength and weakness, of happiness and grief, of love and hate, of pride and prejudice and the underlying effects of colonialism. A story where we question what love is and the extents we would go to for the ones we love.

This kept me gripped not because it was action packed but because of a little girls love for a mother she had never met; a secret she knew her father was keeping from her and my hope that she would eventually find her way.

I liked how the author used diary entries, different viewpoints and real life news events such as the Jonestown Massacre to help us see into the mind of the characters; how the style of the diary entries changed over the years as we saw Rita grow. I loved Rita’s character and how she developed emotionally as the story unfolded.

I listened to the music mentioned and really enjoyed it... Mama Cass’s “Dream A Little Dream” was so perfect for Rita. I listened to Harry Belafonte’s “Jamaica Farewell” and “Island In The Sun” and The Mills Brothers’ “Yellow Bird.” All creating a memorable atmosphere.

The second half of the story where Rita meets her mothers side of the family hit me emotionally but was my favourite. I especially liked learning about leatherback turtles and ecotourism in this part. This book has much to teach and is a worthy read. I loved it 💛

TW: Racism, Sexual assault, childbirth
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The Far Away Girl by Sharon Maas tells the story of Rita, a young girl in Guyana who has lost her mother Cassie due to mysterious circumstances. She lives with her father Jitty and her step-mother Chandra. Rita is content with her life of taking care of stray animals and spending time alone, but Chandra turns her life upside down. The readers get to see Rita grow up and find herself, and eventually discover the truth about her mother.  

I was excited to read this book because I’ve never seen historical fiction set in Guyana. In fact, finding any genre of book set in Guyana or written by Guyanese authors is rare. I have Indo-Guyanese heritage and so finding this kind of representation is important to me. I thought that the author did a wonderful job of describing the landscapes of Guyana and it's wildlife, her love for Guyana is clear and it made me feel like I was there. The way Guyana is described is reminiscent of how my own relatives talk about it, and I appreciate that. I also appreciate the first few chapters that set up the novel and introduce the readers to Guyana and it's history. I’m glad that colonialism and the system of Indian Indenture are mentioned because acknowledging them is important to understanding Guyana. 

Initially, I enjoyed this book. I like Rita, and I enjoyed the concept of including her diary entries to help tell the story. I like that we get to see Rita grow up and discover her identity, but there is one particular instance of Rita learning about her heritage I didn’t like because it felt like she was giving up on that part of her identity rather than embracing it. And although we see Rita grow into a young woman, her voice doesn’t change with her. The way Rita talks and thinks when she is a teenager and young woman is mostly the same as when she was a child. 

As the novel progresses we hear more from Jitty’s POV, and I lost interest. I think my biggest problem with him is that there was no character growth. He knew he made mistakes and he knew he was a jerk, but he never tried to change. His treatment of all of the women in his life is awful. A lot of his chapters included sexist remarks and I found that unnecessary. And because of the lack of growth, his chapters also felt repetitive.

There are several instances where the fact that a character is mixed race is brought up. It felt like the book was trying to comment on what it means to be mixed race but this was not done effectively. These comments never led to greater discussions about racism, they only reflected the racist thinking of the time period the novel is set in. I understand that this is historical fiction and that comments like that were (and still are) commonly said, but if it’s not going to be used as an opportunity to call out racism then why include it at all? 

The big reveal about Rita’s mother is indeed heartbreaking and is one of the best written parts of the book. But it took so long to get there, I wasn’t that invested in it anymore. It just furthered my hatred of Jitty. 

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this book and give it 2.5/5 stars. I appreciate the ways it represents Guyana and Guyanese culture, but a lot of other things didn’t work for me. I wish we had seen more of Rita’s Grandmother and Auntie Penny because Rita’s visits with them were some of the best chapters. I think I would have enjoyed this more if it was only told from Rita and Cassie’s POV, and if we had learned the truth about Cassie a lot sooner.

Thank you to Bookouture and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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A touching read of love, grief and family. This multi perspective story covers issues of race and class in 1970’s Guyana and is a powerful tale. I especially liked the part when Rita returns to her mother’s home and family and discovers the love and life lessons available in the simple life surrounded by loyal family and friends.
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Daddy's Secret

Rita is a seven year old girl living in Guyana in the 1970's. She is happy living with her happy go lucky father and her animals. She hasn't a care in the world until all of a sudden she has a stepmother Chandra. She does not get along with her stepmother who always puts her down for being half-caste, not that she is sure what that means but she thinks it is because she has kinky hair. Then she has a little sister, she loves her sister but she is annoying at times.

Rita wonders what happened to her mother. Her father never talks about it, ever. He also never keeps any promises. The older she gets the more she wonders about her mother. She gets birthday presents from her aunts and grandmother, but when her aunt comes to visit her father slams the door in her face. Still she wonders where she came from and who her mother was, what was she like and why did she die.

This is a coming of age story about Rita. The story of her life, her loves, her young years and her teen years. About family secrets, family problems and a father that loves his daughter but is not cut out to be a family man. One day when Rita is grown she finds out the secret of her mother's death .
This is a book of forgiveness and of love. It is a book of everyday living and a family that just doesn't quite fit together. Rita forges ahead with her life and finds happiness in spite of her upbringing.

I loved the characters in the book, but most of all the vivid descriptions of the beauty of Guyana and the wildlife and rain forest. The shell beach made of shells and the turtles. The beautiful Kaieteur Falls set in the Kaieteur national park. The Golden frogs that are as small as a thumbnail. It was so descriptive I felt like I was there watching the falls and seeing the turtles hatching on shell beach.

I enjoyed reading this book and I would recommend it.

Thanks to Sharon Maas, Bookouture, and NetGalley for allowing me to read a copy in return for an honest review.
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Astoundingly beautiful, incredibly powerful, a powerhouse of a book. This author never ceases to amaze - book after book she stuns and beguiles with her beautiful prose and her wonderful stories. While her books are always making a point or several - this book is about racism, prejudice, self discovery, conservation, humanity- they also always tell a great, great story. This author is one of the most versatile writers I've read and yet whatever the genre her books are masterpieces.  And this book! A coming of age story which also tackles racism and prejudice and environmental issues. But most of all it is an ode to Guyana. After reading this I want to go there, travel to the Pomeroon and the Kaieteur falls. This book is sheer perfection. Please read it. If you don't you're missing out.
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Many thanks NetGalley and Bookouture for this advance reader copy, set for publication on 2nd March.

Based in 1970's Georgetown, Guyana, a landscape and region I'm not overly family with, Maas sets the scene beautifully. Her imagery and scene setting is like no other, telling a story like no other as we follow young Rita and her father Jitty.

Rita lost her mother at an early age, in a way unknown to Rita (which has been kept a staunch secret by her father) and has "enjoyed" a childhood where she has been allowed to run free, up until her father re-marries Chandra, a character who is not so lenient on her upbringing and is so prejudice on Rita's mixed race, personality and appearance. Whilst still a child, Rita's wise before her time and stays true to herself and her beliefs. One for no messing, watching Rita come of age throughout this novel was so eloquently and sensitively written. 

The part of the story where Rita accompanies her Aunt Penny to her late mothers home and family in Pomeroon in the remote Guyanese Rainforest, were some of my favourite chapters of the book. Seeing her amongst family experiencing love that she has never felt, learning important life lessons that couldn't be taught at school, being at one with nature, living a simple life surrounded by loyalty, kindess and support, saw Rita open up in a way I didn't expect. 

Despite being 450 pages in length, I devoured this book in just a couple of days. The emotion it evoked, the exquisite writing and the brilliant story telling, this book is sure to be a hit and has certainly become a firm favourite of mine. For fans of Where the Crawdads Sing and The Vanishing Half, I'd be sure to give this one a try! 4.5 stars from me :)
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