The Missing Girl by Kerry McGinnis

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Kerry McGinnis’s early life has given her a wonderful understanding of people. When her father was left with five young children after the death of his wife, they went bush giving Kerry many experiences that she could draw on for her writing. When asked about the process used when writing a book, McGinnis said that she thinks of a character (and she would have met many in her early life) or a place then you cast that person around a problem and you’re away. This works well as Kerry McGinnis has written several books, all which are wonderful to read.

In her latest book, The Missing Girl, she takes a young woman who has grown up never feeling love from her family members. When her autocratic grandmother requests that she come to the place she had called home after the death of her parents, and get it ready for sale, she hopes that she might find some answers as to why this has been so.

The cast of this book is not large, but each has been beautifully presented so that the reader feels that they have become part of this small group of characters. This is helped by the use of first-person narration. Meg, the granddaughter, presents her experiences as she carries out the task her grandmother has foisted on her.

We meet Mrs Roberts who knew Meg when she was little and realised how lonely she felt. She and her husband set out to provide some of the love that Meg was missing. When Meg returns to Hunters Reach in the Adelaide Hills, Mrs Roberts, who has now lost her husband, steps in to help her. Mrs Roberts is the mother figure Meg never had when she was young.

We also meet Meg’s adventurist boyfriend. Phillip is an accomplished photographer and a very likeable character who is often away on dangerous missions. To help Meg in her task a gardener is engaged to try to bring some order into the expansive grounds of the property. For this author, the background or setting is to a large degree also a character in the novel and in this case, it highlights her love of flowers, especially roses. Although the gardener, Jake, is often aloof, as the story unfolds, we understand why. Meg likes him.

And what about the missing girl? She is central to this story, yet Meg never knew of her existence until returning to Hunters Reach. Old furniture often hide secrets and Meg learns much that will shock her and others but also bring understanding.

I loved the fact that the author imbedded a moral in this storyline. She has said before in interviews that books allow the reader to live multiple lives and hopefully foster an understanding of other people’s point of view. In this way the reader may learn tolerance as the characters do. This philosophy shines through in this story.

It is obvious that Kerry McGinnis knows the bush and the fear that bushfires can bring. The characters in the story are chased by a fire and must find safety in a tank. Her descriptions in this case are very vivid. All of her writing has an authenticity that is appreciated by the reader.

This is a book about interesting characters and the situations that created their personalities. There is mystery and maybe murder, societal norms that influenced individual behaviours as well as love and support and understanding. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with these characters and learning about their experiences.

The Missing Girl

[2021]

by Kerry McGinnis

Penguin Random House Australia

ISBN:978-1-76104-063-4

$32.99; 335pp

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