Why we love it: Bestseller Fiona McCallum returns to the tight-knit town of Wattle Creek and Jacqueline and Damien as they all band together in the face of adversity.
The follow-up to her 2012 bestseller, Wattle Creek, Standing Strong returns to the town of Wattle Creek where psychologist Jacqueline Havelock is starting to feel properly settled. She has a rewarding job, is making new friends, and beginning to explore her blossoming feelings for local farmer Damien. He too seems more at peace as he works on his new animal shelter, Esperance, and slowly comes further out of his shell.
To Jacqueline, it all feels suspiciously too good to be true. When she comes face to face with a tough ethical situation, Jacqueline realises that she may have to choose between her career and her heart – or is there another way to keep the job, town, and man she loves?
If you enjoyed Wattle Creek, you’ll be itching to get back to the community of characters McCallum has created. Ethel (Damien’s lovable aunt and Josephine’s neighbour) returns, with as much quirky kindness as ever. There’s Josephine’s boss, Doctor Squire, who might just end up being full of surprises. We also get to see more of both Josephine and Damien’s respective families, and understand how their family backgrounds shaped who they each became.
Standing Strong is upfront about the challenges of living in a rural Australian town. There’s the changeable weather, of course, bushfires are a very real danger to Wattle Creek in the novel and many other towns across Australia every summer. But there is also that lack of privacy that can arise when everyone seems to know everyone else’s business, which Jacqueline can find difficult.
Of course it also shows the many positives. As Wattle Creek unites in support of Jacqueline, we see what a difference she has made already made to the town, and how much each and every member of the community appreciates and respects one another.
As she did in Wattle Creek, McCallum takes a look at the stigma around men’s mental health. Damien’s struggle with his grief is what led him to meet Jacqueline in the first place, and he is still working through some tough issues, including his broken relationship with mother Tina. At the same time he is discovering his life’s vocation as he works to save animals through his new shelter, with beloved dog Squish by his side.
Standing Strong considers duty, how to do what you know is right even when it’s emotionally challenging. With its relatable characters, dialogue and issues, this is a novel that will ring true for many readers, and is a triumphant return to the town of Wattle Creek.
#84 in Australia’s Top 100 2016
Watch our live interview with Fiona below: