Title: The Jacaranda House
Author: Deborah Challinor
Published: August 5th 2020
Publisher: Harper Collins Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 3 stars
Bestselling author Deborah Challinor returns with a spellbinding novel about a woman living in Sydney’s notorious King’s Cross in 1964.
Polly Manaia is living in Sydney’s notorious Kings Cross, working as an exotic dancer. She’s desperate to bring her young daughter to live with her, but beneath her brash confidence lie dark secrets which threaten to drag her under.
Gina is excited to live with her mum again. She’s mature for an eleven-year-old, but can this young girl cope with Polly’s demons?
Rhoda and Star, transgender performers and Polly’s flatmates, bring stability to Polly and Gina’s lives. Yet this unlikely little family will find themselves threatened in more ways than one.
The Jacaranda House is a fascinating portrayal of a shifting society and a beautiful portrait of motherhood and identity.
The Jacaranda House is the seventeenth release from prolific author Deborah Challinor and it also represents book three in Challinor’s The Restless Years series. This installment in The Relentless Years series takes the reader to the heart of Sydney’s notorious Kings Cross district in the mid-1960s. Within the pages of The Jacaranda House Challinor unveils a tale of parental relationships, motherhood, friendship, identity and survival.
Drawing on a character from a previous issue of The Restless Years series, The Jacaranda House focuses on the life of Polly Manaia. Polly has settled in Sydney’s Kings Cross from New Zealand. Polly makes a living as an exotic dancer and it is an existence marked by big highs and great lows. Polly is determined to retrieve her daughter Gina from the care of grandmother back in New Zealand. However, Polly is aware that her life as it stands is both complicated and unstable, which would make it hard to provide Gina with the home life she deserves. Polly calls on her closest friends, transgender performers Rhoda and Star to help her support Gina. Together, this unlikely quartet develop a close bond and it is clear that they will need each other more than ever when big problems arise.
The Convict Girls series is my only experience of the writing of bestselling author Deborah Challinor. I was really intrigued by the title of this book and as soon as I perused the blurb, I was soon captivated by the setting of The Jacaranda House, which is based in Kings Cross in the 1960s. Although I haven’t read the previous two books in series, I was willing to open my heart to Deborah Challinor’s latest release.
The Jacaranda House is very well written and carefully researched. It is clear that the author is well versed in the social practices of this time period and location. I could not fault Challinor’s dedication to her craft in terms of her recreation of this time frame. I really enjoyed being exposed to the grand stage shows, celebrities, big personalities and the glamour of the Cross. We are even given a thorough overview of the impact of Beatlemania in Australia. This was a time when Sydney’s Kings Cross was at its optimum, it was dazzling . However, the downside of this time and place is explored by Challinor. We see the impact of alcohol, drug abuse, prostitution and the treatment of transgender performers. This seedy side to Sydney’s club scene is explored in detail by the author, with an air of insight, objectivity and sensitivity.
In terms of characters, this is where The Jacaranda House took a fall for me. I appreciated the strong representation of lead Polly, along with her trusted companions Rhoda and Star. Polly’s daughter Gina was rather sweet and I did develop a level of sympathy for her circumstances. However, despite the dose of realism surrounding these characters I felt there was something missing. This may be due to my lack of previous experience with the other issues of the series, or perhaps these very interesting characters were not explored to their full potential. I’m not sure, but it did result in this one becoming quite difficult to read at times.
The Jacaranda House offered a good exploration of familial relationships, secrets and identity. There are personal dramas, problems to overcome, relationships to repair and battles to settle throughout the journey of The Jacaranda House. I did feel some disconnection to areas of this full plotline, which surprised me. I think I would recommend The Jacaranda House to previous readers of The Restless Years series, who may find more value in this read than I did.
The Jacaranda House by Deborah Challinor was published on 5th July 2020 by Harper Collins Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Jacaranda House, Deborah Challinor, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Harper Collins Books Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.