I came to say goodbye

…by Caroline Overington.

The book begins with a young woman walking into Sydney Children’s Hospital and taking a baby girl from a ward. That is the prologue. It then moves on to a letter by Med Atley to a judge. He recounts his life in Forster, New South Wales up to the moment where the young woman in the prologue, his daughter, takes the baby. Med recounts how he met and married his ex-wife Pat and had two children, Karen aka Kat and son, Blue. And ten years later, another child. Donna-Faye. A.k.a. Fat. Pat walks out on Med when Fat is merely two years old and consequently, Med raises her on his own. At the same time, Kat, who is intellectually gifted, gets a scholarship to study at a private girls’ school in Sydney for her high school. As Fat becomes a teenager, Med realises how difficult things can get. For one thing, Fat starts to get interested in boys. And worse, she takes up Paul Haines at the age of 15. Ten years her senior. Known for criminal behaviour, drug use and violence since the age of 10, he is nothing short of bad news. At 16 Fat moves in with him and things get worse for Med as she is unable to see the flaws in her partner. It all comes to a head when their first child, Seth is taken away from them due to child protection concerns. Concerns that Fat claims she has no knowledge about.

How does her life spiral to the point in the prologue? 

To know that, you have to read the book. Because if I continue, I could give it all away.

While I was a bit sceptical about the book at the beginning due to the writing style, I realised how wrong I was once the plot and the issues grabbed me. It was one of those books I was unable to put down. You could understand Med’s confusion around his teenage daughter’s rebellion when neither of his older kids had behaved in this manner. You could also understand why Fat would stay in a relationship (if it could be called that) with a man like Haines. There are also comments about how the child protection authorities work in NSW as well as the health system. And for someone who works in the public health system and has to deal with child protection workers, I could totally feel the anger and the angst at the political correctness madness the system can get into. I loved how the story built up…from the present to the past and rejoining the present…all in the form of letters. And it kept you gripped wanting to know more. More about Fat’s past. More about what led her to kidnap this baby. More about who this baby was. It was heart-breaking in some instances as well and will make the reader question the system we live in. For someone who works as part of the system though, it comes as no surprise. Another thing I really enjoyed about the book was the local knowledge. While a lot of the past is set in Forster, the present is in Sydney. And knowing the landmarks and the suburbs has a connected feel to the whole thing. It almost makes the story feel real.

I give it a rating of 5. And I’m heading off to the library to get more of her books.

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