By Joy Dettman
Publisher/Year: Macmillan 2021
From the bestselling author of Mallawindy and the Woody Creek series comes a story of love and survival.
Lori Smyth-Owen isn’t your average teenager – as you’d expect from the only girl in a family of twelve. Or they were a family, until their father took his own life to escape his bed-bound wife, too obese to leave her room.
But for Lori and the remaining brothers, there is no escape from their volatile, mentally unstable mother. They raise themselves away from the gaze of the authorities, realising that though abandoned, they are now in charge. They can control everything, including their mother’s food intake.
In time, their mother emerges, after losing two-thirds of her body weight. But does she bring with her the seed of hope for a better future, or will all hell break loose?
Reviewer: Tracy Mackay
The Hope Flower is the sequel to Joy Dettman’s Henry’s Daughter which was published in 2003 and is not part of the Woody Creek series. I haven’t read Henry’s Daughter and found The Hope Flower easy to read as the author fills in the background as the story progresses. The hardest part to get my head around was all the children – twelve of them!
The main character is fifteen-year-old Lori, the only girl in the Smyth-Owen family; the story is told mainly from her perspective. The children’s ages range from early twenties to five years. Lori is tough and wise – way beyond her years – she has to be because her mother Mavis is a lazy, cruel and vile creature. The story takes place in Willama about three years after the death of Henry the children’s father and is set in the family home on a quarter acre block and a large vacant block next door. The whole street was once filled with old houses on quarter acre blocks, but progress is coming to the area and residents are slowly starting to sell. Townhouses are being built on the blocks after the houses, beautiful gardens and big trees are demolished.
Nine of the children are still living at home with obese Mavis who is locked away in a hand-built room at the rear of the house. Mavis already lazy, nasty and overweight when her husband Henry was alive has become worse since his death. The children take matters into their own hands. Mavis is confined to the out room, and her food, alcohol and cigarette intake restricted until she loses two-thirds of her body weight.
While Mavis is imprisoned, the children take control of everything including Mavis’s bank account and credit card. They must fend for themselves. Their biggest fear is that the authorities will take the kids away from Mavis and end up in foster care.
Once Mavis loses weight the children let her out, and their carefully controlled world begins to crumble. Mavis now has access to the house and food. The kids improvise and constantly evolve to keep Mavis under control and resort to drugging her on the sly just to avoid her violent temper tantrums and things returning to how it was before.
To me, reading about the children and how they cooked, shopped and handled their mother, reminded me of how an ant colony operates. There was often no communication, they all the children simply pitched in and did everything.
I found it hard to choose a favorite Smyth-Owen character as all the kids had different strengths and qualities, but Lori is the stand-out – so tough and resilient. Bert and Nelly, two older neighbours, pitch in and help as much as they can while trying to avoid the nasty Mavis. I also liked the solicitor, Watts, originally a bit pompous but who eventually comes to the party to help the children. I enjoyed the story and describe it as a survival story with an underlying theme of hope. There’s a touch of humour, some dark and some politically incorrect moments which I really liked. The Hope Flower is a rollercoaster ride of emotions, heartbreaking in parts and uplifting in others. After the first page fifty once I got my head around all the characters The Hope Flower was hard to put down.
5 stars from me.