The Secrets Of Southern Girls: A Novel by Haley Harrigan


She only has lovers in wintertime.

In summer, the days stretch long like lazy animals, and the sun’s rays reach like warm fingers down between the buildings and slide gently across her face and arms. It’s harder, then, to think of dark things.


Just what are the dark things in Julie Portland’s past? The haunting knowledge she carries and the fear that she has her best friend’s blood on her hands, and her guilty conscience. Now a single mother, she struggles to raise her little girl and keep her life afloat. The problem is, you can’t bury the past- somehow truth has a way of surfacing. Though living in in Manhattan, far from Mississippi, there is something corroded about her present circumstances. She has never recovered from the loss of Reba a decade ago.

Reba’s first, secret love August is a reminder of everything that went wrong. Though he never really knew Julie, he has come to beg her to help him find Reba’s missing diary but this means returning to the chilling past, her hometown. What if, in finding the diary, things left unknown are better buried? Could there be redemption or just more blame?

Through the diary entries, the sweet Reba isn’t the southern innocent her loved ones believed her to be. What does Julie’s screwed up brother know about that night, what did he really witness? How much have each of them carried with them through the years, poisoning their  relationships, tainting their futures?  August has carried Reba in his heart for so long, that no one can compare to that first blush of youth. But did Reba truly love as deeply as he?

There is racism on the periphery, but in a place where there is a great race divide, there isn’t a citizen alive that isn’t aware of it. If it is in a novel, it needs to be an ominous presence, as racism is.  I had a hard time with a few things. The journal entries could have been darker, and at times I couldn’t see Reba as a real girl. I’ve read a plethora of novels with ‘diaries’, also many diaries that are non-fiction, and Reba’s thoughts didn’t have the feel of diary entries to me. I expected in a racist town for Reba to have a much bigger struggle over her feelings towards August. The sneaking around made sense but it wasn’t complicated enough. That Reba wasn’t exactly the sort of person her best friend figured her to be wasn’t a shock, but the problem I had was that I don’t think the reader feels Reba ever became a person we cared for. Diaries are intimate, they can endear, repulse, horrify, expose… it didn’t happen for me, this is the place the character breathes life, particularly in a story of a dead girl, but she never came alive.

Maybe I have read far too many journals, and as an avid diarist myself my expectations were too high and unforgiving. I expected childish, outlandish nonsense, because even the most gifted teenagers exaggerate the importance of every incident of their lives. “NO one has ever loved as great as me” you know, feelings running away with you, passions setting them afire. I don’t like to skip when reading, it’s a form of sacrilege but I was tempted when Reba’s diary entries appeared. The other thing, I was hoping with the title being about southern girls there’d be a more southern flavor, and I don’t mean racism for you cynical people! Julie is the wild one, having lost her parents she lives with an Aunt she never knew and didn’t seem to really have any parental boundaries set. I was waiting for some crazy southern nights, seeing as she’s the wild child. There’s a heap of trouble southern girls get up to, the ‘wild ones’ you know, I am surprised the author didn’t run with that. It was a good enough read and this is an advanced reader’s edition. I wonder if maybe young adults would enjoy it more than my old dusty self.

Publication Date: June 1, 2017

Sourcebooks Landmark




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