#aww2021 · 2021 Reviews · contemporary fiction · new release

New Release Book Review: The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital by Joanna Nell

Title: The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital

Author: Joanna Nell

Published: September 29th 2021

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Pages: 384

Genres: Fiction, Contemporary

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4 stars

The heartwarming and hilarious new novel by the author of cherished bestsellers, The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village and The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home

The Marjorie Marshall Memorial Cafeteria has been serving refreshments and raising money at the hospital for over fifty years, long after anybody can remember who Marjorie Marshall actually was. Staffed by successive generations of dedicated volunteers, the beloved cafeteria is known as much for offering a kind word and sympathetic ear (and often unsolicited life advice) as for its tea and buns.

Stalwart Hilary has worked her way up through the ranks to Manageress; Joy has been late every day since she started as the cafeteria’s newest recruit. She doesn’t take her role as ‘the intern’ quite as seriously as Hilary would like but there’s no doubt she brings a welcome pop of personality. Seventeen-year-old Chloe, the daughter of two successful surgeons, is volunteering during the school holidays because her mother thinks it will look good on her CV.

Chloe is at first bewildered by the two older women but soon realises they have a lot in common, not least that each bears a secret pain. When they discover the cafeteria is under threat of closure, this unlikely trio must band together to save it.


Merry, lively, tender and life affirming, The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital is the latest release from Joanna Nell. Delivering plenty of laughs, smiles and moments of semblance, Joanna Nell’s new story is another wonderful senior perspective fiction title.

At the heart of this new novel from much loved storyteller Joanna Nell is the Marjorie Marshall Memorial Cafeteria. This establishment has been operating for years, loyally serving food and drink to patrons of the hospital. The cafeteria would not operate without its hardworking army of volunteers, who offer emotional support, along with some soul nourishing treats. Hilary is the head of the cafeteria and this manageress has been a vital figure in the running of this essential service for a number of years. Joy is a new recruit to the cafeteria and although Joy is never on time, she is dedicated to her new role. The cafeteria’s newest member of staff is Chloe, the daughter of two surgeons. Chloe is a seventeen-year-old girl who is hoping that her work at the cafeteria will make her resume look impressive. At first seems as though these three very different women have nothing in common, but as they interact with one another they discover a heartwarming connection. This sense of togetherness further compounds when the cafeteria is told it will close. This unlikely trip must do all they can to save this vital community service.

I think that the poignant parting words in Joanna Nell’s acknowledgements section of The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital gives the audience a really good indication of the aim of this book. Nell states that her latest tale has been dedicated the unsung heroes and the volunteers of hospital canteens. Via her engaging narrative Nell gives great thanks these hard-working people for their dedication to improving the lives of the patients, their families, general visitors and the staff of the hospital community. I know I will be a lot more appreciative next time I visit a hospital cafeteria. The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital is a thoughtful, considerate and awareness raising book, highlighting the essential and selfless work of a group of volunteers. I think Joanna Nell’s new book goes a long way in highlighting the altruistic efforts of these active members of our community.

Nell chooses to draw in three very different perspectives in her latest novel. We have Hilary, the manageress of the cafeteria. Joy is the cafeteria’s latest intern and Joy offers the second core perspective of this tale. Joy is of a similar age to Hilary, but the two women lead quite contrasted lives. The third perspective featured in The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital comes from a much younger face. Chloe is a seventeen-year-old who hopes that her work at the cafeteria will look good on her CV. Initially it appears as though all three characters are worlds apart, but as the story progresses Nell teases out the private issues and personal problems of each figure. I enjoyed the metamorphosis of these characters and the sense of comradery that developed during their time together. It seemed unlikely at first, but as the book progressed this unconditional support seemed to flourish.

Complications arise in The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital in the form of a threat of closure to the cafeteria, a service that has been running successfully for over five decades. Naturally there is a revolt and the women must be proactive in trying to save the cafeteria from ruin. I really liked this area of the novel. The creative approach, dedication, resilience, never give up attitude, resourcefulness and the pure strength the cast of this novel displays, really does make it an uplifting read. Drawing in themes of loneliness, grief, loss, separation, family values, ageing, support, expectation, personal choice friendship, health and hospital procedures, there is a lot to gain from this narrative. It is a busy but endearing story, that blends comical moments with instances of pure understanding.  For me the beauty of The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital was the volunteer experience in general, as Nell passionately draws our attention to the essential role of these hardworking members of our local community. This was a very touching and memorable parting message.

An effervescent, natural, sympathetic and funny tale from open to close, I highly recommend The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital.

The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital by Joanna Nell is published by Hachette Australia on September 29th 2021. $32.99.


*Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.

The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital is book #97 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge

3 thoughts on “New Release Book Review: The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital by Joanna Nell

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