Book Review: Believe in Me by Lucy Neave

About the Book:

As a teenager in the 1970s, Sarah is forced to leave her home in upstate New York to accompany a missionary to Idaho. When she falls pregnant, she is dispatched to relatives in Sydney, who place her in a home for unmarried mothers. Years later her daughter, Bet, pieces together her mother’s life story, hoping to understand her better. As she learns more about Sarah’s past, Bet struggles to come to terms with her own history and identity, yet is determined to make peace with Sarah’s choices before it’s too late.

Lucy Neave’s moving and deeply personal second novel, Believe in Me, explores the relationships between mothers and their children across three generations of one family. The book questions what we can ever truly know of our parents’ early lives, even as their experiences weave ineffably into our identities and destinies.

Published by UQP

Released 31st August 2021

My Thoughts:

Despite its bleakness, I quite enjoyed this novel. The writing is exquisite, and it was narrated in an impressionable way, a first-person narration that had an omniscient feel to it, particularly throughout part one where Bet is telling her mother’s story from before her own birth through to after. The story comes off as deeply personal, almost like a memoir in style. There is an element of unreliability to the narration too: Bet is telling her mother’s story, which she has learned second hand from a few diverse sources, as well as, in later years, relying on her own childhood memories and subjective impressions of her mother. Coupled with this is Sarah herself, and her scrapbooks, which she shares later with Bet as a roadmap of her own history. But how dependable is Sarah in this telling? Not very, I imagine. She has the ability to interpret her scrapbooks for Bet in anyway she chooses, and I did find Sarah to be a curious mix of naïve and manipulative as an adult.

‘As she told me about her life it felt as if it was drowning out my own.’

Neither of these characters, Sarah or Bet, were particularly likeable to me and yet I was able to admire them both, in pieces, and remain wholly invested in the story. I empathised with their trials and experiences, but I often found Sarah tiresome and Bet’s disconnection from everything and everyone disturbing. I do think the author has done an excellent job at demonstrating the way trauma can manifest itself throughout a person’s life, along with the way in which this trauma can be passed onto the next generation, almost like a genetic imprint. This story is complex with deep themes explored at both a personal and social level. It offers a glance at history through a political lens as well, which I enjoyed. And while it isn’t something that impacts the story as such, I do really love the cover, its styling as a sample of a page out of Sarah’s scrapbook so in tune with the story. Well done to the cover designers on this one.

Believe in Me is an intimate, complex, and affecting story of mother-daughter relations against a background of trauma and uncertainty. It’s beautifully written and will draw you in with its mesmerising narration and raw emotion. Highly recommended.

☕☕☕☕

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Believe in Me by Lucy Neave

  1. Pingback: Classics and Literary Round-up: October 2021 | Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

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