I was looking forward to reading The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Holly Ringland's debut novel, the second I found out it was set in Australia. I've visited Australia twice now over the last 4ish years and it's one of my favourite places. This novel totally lived up to my expectations because the settings were magical and played such an important part in this great book.
Here's the synopsis:
An enchanting and captivating novel about how our untold stories haunt us — and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive.As I said, the settings of this book were incredibly important to the overall story. It reminded me a lot of Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery's other books. Anne and PEI are intertwined - you can't think of one without picturing the other - and her imagination and way she viewed the natural world around her are a huge reason the series is so delightful. Ringland does something similar with her novel and Alice. Plus, not only are the settings at the heart of each story but Alice and Anne have a lot in common. They're both orphans and neither had an ideal upbringing. Then, when they're still quite young, they're wrenched from the world and home they knew and brought somewhere completely different. And, coincidentally, red earth ends up being important to both women. (For Anne that's the dirt of PEI but you'll have to read Ringland's book to fully understand the importance to Alice.)
After her family suffers a tragedy, nine-year-old Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak.
Under the watchful eye of June and the women who run the farm, Alice settles, but grows up increasingly frustrated by how little she knows of her family’s story. In her early twenties, Alice’s life is thrown into upheaval again when she suffers devastating betrayal and loss. Desperate to outrun grief, Alice flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. In this otherworldly landscape Alice thinks she has found solace, until she meets a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.
Spanning two decades, set between sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm, and a celestial crater in the central desert, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart follows Alice’s unforgettable journey, as she learns that the most powerful story she will ever possess is her own.
Plus, as a special added bonus, I'm fairly certain I've been in the areas Ringland imagined up for Alice. She notes in her Author's note that she made up the towns and National Park Alice visits later in the novel. But, based on the description of where Alice grew up and then moved to as well as where Ringland herself grew up, I was pretty sure the story took place somewhere near the Gold or Sunshine Coasts. Then, when I read the "In Gratitude" section, Ringland notes that she grew up on the land of the Bundjalung people. That's the area of of Australia I've been to and, like I said, I absolutely adore it. How can you not:
|A photo I took the last time I was at Point Danger|
|A photo my boyfriend took on his second trip to Australia|
Now that I've gushed about the natural setting of the novel, how about the rest of it? It was delightful in a heart-wrenching, family drama kind of way. Alice is a character who will completely get under your skin and you won't be able to rest until you find out how her story ends. Which I really want to talk about but that would be a spoiler so I have so many thoughts I need to hold in. Bah.
Oh, and I just loved how each chapter started with a line drawing, name, meaning, and description of Australian flowers.
|This flower has particular significance to the story.|
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is unique and, other than Anne, I can't think of any other book like it. Holly Ringland's debut novel is a page-turner that will reach deep into your soul and have you completely engrossed in the story. I think Alice is a character everyone should meet and her story is one that will stick with you long after you've turned the last page.
*An Advance Reading Copy was provided by the publisher, House of Anansi Press, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*