A Little Bird Told Me by Marianne Holmes


Don’t cry, I think, watching as she swallows hard. Crying is for bigger things than this.

Growing up with secrets doesn’t make for any easy life,  it is 1976 and Robin likes to go swimming, trail after her brother Kit, and dodge encounters with the bully Debbie and her ‘gonks’. At home, the atmosphere is heavy with the weeping of women whom her mother often tries to save from themselves, or abusive spouses. Then there is the mysterious cowboy, who like a shadow is hanging around her, offering her little presents that he says really belong to her to begin with. They are magic things, for protection. What does she need protection from, though? Her nights are spent restless with bad dreams, could they be memories?

To settle her fears, her mother always tells Robin her favorite story, about how they made their home here, ‘blown into town on a storm.’ That storm isn’t the baddest they’ll encounter. Her mother is meddling in a marriage, and the townspeople are saying terrible things about her. She is far too young to really know which way is up, angry that her mother is taking Robyn’s pitiful savings to help a grown woman, Sharon Mace and her little boy, Danny. No one is as irate though as Sharon’s husband. There isn’t much the police can do, this is the 70’s, and a wife belongs at home with her man!

What would Robin know of fathers caring enough to hunt down their wife and children, her own doesn’t even have a role in her life, is nothing but a wisp of smoke, not even a memory. Even if it’s in violence, Danny is lucky his dad cares at all. All of her inquiries into who her own might be are met with outlandish stories, ‘he is a Russian spy’, or a ‘great explorer’.  Even his name is fluid, Roger today, Roberto tomorrow. She, her mother and Kit have Mathew though, the only true father they’ve ever known after ‘crashing into his life with the storm’.

Robin keeps the cowboy a secret, until her mother sees the ‘gifts’ and acts funny about it.

Jump to the future, 12 years later Robin and Kit are back in town, their old house a standing reminder of their haunting past. In retracing the steps of their old life, will she uncover the truths her mother could never divulge? The locals aren’t happy about their return, but she can’t run forever. The not knowing is killing Robyn, and she doesn’t want Kit to know the risks she has taken to find out what really happened. Maybe Eve knows something, their mother’s friend? So much has changed in their absence, and so little. Young Robyn is blinded by her naiveté, as all children are, in the early years taking what they are told for fact, no reason to doubt the parent who loves them. Robyn in the 80’s is lost, damaged and depserate for closure. The back and forth between then and now worked for the most part, but Robyn was more solid in her youth to me, more of a ghost of her former self (maybe that’s done on purpose) in the later years.

Where is their mother? Why was she so passionate about helping others, at the risk of her own little family? The one person who may know the truth is the one man they need to stay away from, the one who promised to hunt them down with the ominous threat ‘Family is blood and pain’ swearing he will teach Robyn and Kit his meaning. Does she really want the truth?

My issue is, with all the secrecy of the past, shouldn’t their mother lay low rather than bring attention to herself in such a small town? Ok, nature will out- it’s her way to save others, still one must ask, ‘why at great risk to herself and her children?’ Maybe I would have cared more about Kit and Robyn in their later years if we had a bit more filler about what they were up to after tragedy struck. Luckily I cared about Robyn as a little girl, if not as much when she was grown up because she wasn’t as real to me, so I wanted to keep reading for little Robyn’s sake. The ending was solid, one I didn’t quite predict. I admit it’s hard to be kept in the dark as a reader about some things, so I can see how it could frustrate others.When we meet Robyn in the 80’s the pace slows a bit, and I found myself looking forward to the past more. It takes a bit of a dark turn at the end. With that said, it is a good debut novel, and I look forward to Holmes future stories.

Publication Date: September 13, 2018

Agora Books


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