Secrets of Southern Girls by Haley Harrigan

southern-girlsIn Secrets of Southern Girls, the powerful, affecting debut from Haley Harrigan, a young woman uncovers devastating secrets about the friend she thinks she killed…

Ten years ago, Julie Portland accidentally killed her best friend, Reba. What’s worse is she got away with it. Consumed by guilt, she left the small town of Lawrence Mill, Mississippi, and swore nothing would ever drag her back.

Now, raising her daughter and struggling to make ends meet in Manhattan, Julie still can’t forget the ghost of a girl with golden hair and a dangerous secret.

When August, Reba’s first love, begs Julie to come home to find the diary that Reba kept all those years ago, Julie’s past comes creeping back to haunt her. That diary could expose the shameful memories Julie has been running from, but it could also unearth the hidden truths that Reba left buried…and reveal that Julie isn’t the only one who feels responsible for Reba’s death.

In fact, she may not be responsible at all.

Review

Secrets of Southern Girls by Haley Harrigan is the kind of book that takes time to fully grab your attention but once it does, you end up totally engrossed to the last page. The story starts out a bit slow with Julie at New York. I struggled a little with the beginning. I couldn’t figure out where the story was heading to and I wasn’t interested in what was going on at that point.  However, the pace quickly changed once August came into the story. He shows up in Julie’s life trying to get her to go back with him to Lawrence Mill, Mississippi and try to find Reba’s diary.

Once the two arrive at Lawrence Mill, I was totally hooked. The narration alternates between Julie and August. In addition, there are diary entries by Reba. I am usually fascinated by narrations about the past and so naturally, I loved the chapters narrated by Reba. These are the chapters that help us learn about the past and especially about the events leading up to the death of Reba. There are other narrators throughout the story. One of them is Toby. I enjoyed learning more about him through the diary than even his own narrations. Toby was one of the realest characters in the book. He is flawed and easy to dislike but there was something endearing about him.

The story is about secrets and lies. The diary holds the most devastating revelations. I found myself wondering about how well we really know the people in our lives. Could they be having secrets/other lives that we totally don’t know about? Do we really know anybody at all and do they know us? Anyway, I digress. All the people in Reba’s life thought that they knew her. However, they all knew just versions of her but the diary bares shocking revelations that leaves everyone torn apart.

Lawrence Mill, Mississippi was an interesting setting. Reba’s diary reveals events that took place in 1997. I was surprised by the open racism. African Americans in the town are not easily accepted and interracial relationships are sort of a taboo. To date someone from a different race, you had to sneak around to avoid condemnation. The small town holds many secrets and I was intrigued by the character’s attempt to unravel the secrets from the past.

I ended up reading Secrets of Southern Girls by Haley Harrigan in just two sittings. The suspense was thick especially after the first chapters and the introduction of the diary. I was curious about the past. I wanted to know how Reba died. Was Julie the killer? Who else was involved? I was curious about Reba herself. She had so many secrets such that each diary entry was a revelation. Harrigan’s writing is beautiful and this added to the appeal of the book. In some aspects it was poetic. She managed to get me fully immersed in the story. In the end, despite the slow start, I enjoyed this book.

About the Author

Haley Harrigan graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in creative writing and public relations. She lives in Athens, Georgia, with her husband. Secrets of Southern Girls is her debut.  Visit her website at www.haleyharrigan.com or on Twitter @HCHarrigan.

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