Book Review | The Other Side of the Season | Jenn J McLeod
“When offering to drive her brother to Byron Bay to escape the bitter Blue Mountains winter, Sidney neglects to mention her planned detour to the small coastal town of Watercolour Cove.
Thirty-five years earlier, Watercolour Cove is a very different place. Two brothers are working the steep, snake-infested slopes of a Coffs Coast banana plantation. Seventeen-year-old David does his share, but he spends too much time daydreaming about becoming a famous artist and skiving off with Tilly, the pretty girl from the neighbouring property. His older brother, Matthew, has no time for such infatuations. His future is on the land and he plans to take over the Greenhill plantation from his father.
Life is simple on top of the mountain for David, Matthew and Tilly until the winter of 1979 when tragedy strikes, starting a chain reaction that will ruin lives for years to come. Those who can, escape the Greenhill plantation. One stays—trapped on the mountain and haunted by memories and lost dreams.
That is, until the arrival of a curious young woman, named Sidney, whose love of family shows everyone the truth can heal, what’s wrong can be righted, the lost can be found, and . . . there’s another side to every story.”
“As I peer through the window, Of lost time, Looking over my yesterdays, Through the mirror of my mind, Time after time, I see reflections of you and me …Reflections of the way life used to be” – Diana Ross and The Supremes
The Other Side of the Season is Jenn J McLeod’s fourth novel in her Seasons Collection (which are all stand-alone novels) but this, perhaps, could be her best yet. As usual, Jenn’s capabilities managed to sweep me away with her unique storytelling ability – an ability that is strengthened by a fabulous mix of emotional depth, real life and family secrets.
With her mother’s refusal to discuss the past still fresh in her mind, along with the breakup of her seven year relationship with her partner, Sidney and her brother head off on a road trip but, unbeknownst to Jake, Sidney’s heading straight to Watercolour Cove, hoping that she’ll be able to discover exactly what it is that her mother has been hiding all these years.
“My life began when I met and married your father.” - Natalie
In the parallel timeline of 1979 on a banana plantation on top of the mountain in Watercolour Cove, we are introduced to David Hill, an aspiring artist who has every intention of leaving the family farm to pursue his dream of painting and owning his own art gallery and Matthew, his brother, who would be only too happy to take over the running of the family plantation.
“There are winners and losers in life, Tilly. You and me are losers. We’re not handed the same chances. We have to find our own opportunities” - Matthew
In this timeline, we are also introduced to the kids from the wrong side of the tracks, Tilly and Albie Markht, the adopted children of the farmers on the neighbouring plantation, who share a somewhat discordant relationship with one another.
“I understand. I do. You’re just like everyone else. No one’s ever wanted me for real.” - Albie
It is Sidney’s “detour” and subsequent search for her imprisoned grandfather, as well as an accident that brings Natalie to Watercolour Cove and gradually, the veil begins to lift and the links between her characters start to emerge and advance towards a point of convergence in which perhaps nobody will come out unscathed as they try to reconcile the past while moving to the future.
“One day I’m going to choose the biggest rock on the wall and I’m going to paint you a message that will last forever … and I won’t care if everyone sees it” – David
I eagerly anticipate each new release by Jenn J McLeod and it’s really not hard to see why as she continues to demonstrate a masterful gift for storytelling, writing realistic and three-dimensional characters who the reader intuitively understands and empathises with.
Told from the viewpoints of Sidney, Tilly, Natalie and David, broken up into four parts and shifting decades between 1975 and present day, it’s a book that reflects on the paths our lives take, the people who influence those paths, the choices we make and the repercussions those choices can have.
The intricately woven plot that combines secrets, lies, betrayal, mother/daughter relationships, lost chances, sibling rivalry, choices, broken families, love and redemption, all of which lead us into territory touching on albinism, mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction as well as the institutional abuse of children, reinforces the balance between hope and reality and the world in which we live.
Just as in life, there are not always happy endings so be prepared for the shocking twist – one I didn’t see coming – that had me hauling out the Kleenex while I sobbed my heart out! Yes, Jenn, I have a bone to pick with you!!
Well-paced and, with its fictional seaside setting of Watercolour Cove creating more than just mere ripples in the water and distorted reflections for everyone involved, this novel is ideal for those blustery wintry days when you want to curl up in a quiet sunny corner and let the queen of small-town stories leave her own memorable imprint on you.
I wish to thank Simon & Schuster Australia for providing me with an ARC copy for review.
No stranger to embracing a second chance or trying something different, Jenn J McLeod took her first tentative steps towards a tree change in 2004, escaping Sydney’s corporate chaos to buy a small cafe in the seaside town of Sawtell.
For Jenn, moving to the country was like coming home.
After ten years running a B&B on her NSW property, she now gets to write her contemporary Australian fiction (life-affirming novels of small town life and the country roots that run deep) grey nomad style–a wandering writer of no fixed address. Yep! She's hit the road in a Ford and a fifth wheeler –writing in and under the southern cross.
Readers and reviewers alike enthusiastically received her debut, House for all Seasons, placing it at #5 on the 2013 Nielsen’s Best Selling Debut Novel list. Simmering Season is book two in the Seasons Collection (all standalone reads) with Season of Shadow and Light in 2015 and now, The Other Side of the Season which was released in May this year.