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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Splintered Heart: A Red Dust Novel by Linda Dowling is a sweeping tale of abuse and heartache seen through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old girl growing up poor in the Sydney suburbs in the 1960s. Lisa was a typical, slightly rebellious girl until the day she realized her older step-sister’s fiancé appeared to have designs on her. After being brutally raped and assaulted by the fiancé, Lisa’s behavior became “uncontrollable” and she was shipped off to the infamous Paramatta Girls’ Home for rehabilitation. There, the abuse became even more violent and more horrific. Almost at breaking point and following some harrowing experiences, Lisa is rescued from the depravity by her father’s sister and her husband. Aunty Zena takes Lisa far from the city to a remote sheep station in the New South Wales hinterland, where she begins the slow process of healing and coming to terms with acts no young girl should ever have to experience. With the aid of some Aboriginal spiritual medicine and the love of her aunt and uncle, Lisa slowly begins the crawl back to normality, always knowing she will have to face and recount the trauma all over again if the accursed Girls’ Home Superintendent and her step-sister’s fiancé are ever to face justice for their horrific acts. When Lisa meets a sweet, loving, charismatic, and spiritual young Aborigine boy, her heart is slowly mended but she will run slap-bang into the intense prejudice that was the norm in 1960s Australia.
When you read as many books as I do in a year, it takes something special to make a real impact on you emotionally. Splintered Heart is exactly such a book. Author Linda Dowling has created a scenario that was not only heart-wrenching and in places gut-churning, but sadly incredibly real and true for the time. The author pulls no punches when describing the level of depravity faced by this poor teenager but she also gives us real hope and inspiration as to the indomitability of the human spirit to rise above such terrible injustices and to seek to right the wrongs. Her portrayal of the indigenous people, the much-maligned Aborigines, was sensitive and deeply moving. Their understanding of the human spirit and its needs comes shining through every page. In many ways, I found myself comparing this work to that of one of the great Australian authors, Colleen McCullough, and it did not suffer in comparison. I found the relationship between Lisa and her aunt and uncle to be the highlight of the story. I loved their liberal, caring, and loving attitudes, not to just Lisa but to all those around them. Alan especially typified the Australian hard-working sheep rancher of his time but his attitude toward the Aborigines was certainly rare for the period. In the lexicon of the time, one would probably describe him as a “real good bastard”. This is a fantastic story and I cannot wait to see where this goes in the next iteration of the tale. I particularly look forward to Book Two, as Lisa faces seeking justice for the crimes committed against her along with possibly finding love in the arms of Billy and what problems that relationship would have to endure in 1960s Australia. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is an absolute cracker.