The Buchanan Girls is a sweeping Australian family saga about betrayal, forgiveness and the cost of love, moving between WWII and modern-day Sydney.
Sydney, 1941. Olive and Ivy may be identical twins, but they couldn’t be more different. While Olive is focused on marrying a man appropriate to her station, Ivy wants to do more, to be more. Joining the Australian Women’s Army Service is the perfect chance for her to escape her family obligations and make a real difference in the world. She doesn’t expect serving her country to lead to romance … or devastating betrayal and unthinkable grief.
As the war progresses, both Olive and Ivy find themselves wanting the same thing: for their loves to return safely. But neither of the Buchanan girls is ready for what the future has in store for them.
Sydney, 2008. Escaping her husband’s betrayal and an impossible personal loss, Madeline returns home to Sydney to nurse her broken heart. As she settles into her new routine, it’s too easy to consider never returning to New York and her old life. But her husband won’t give up on what they have so easily, and Madeline can’t ignore his messages reminding her of why they fell in love in the first place. With her grandmother’s support, Madeline must decide if forgiveness means reconciliation. But is the biggest betrayal yet to come?
The Buchanan Girls is a family saga full of twists and turns, and I happily got lost in it over a weekend. Australian author Emily Madden, whose previous novels include The Lost Pearl and Heart of the Cross is well attuned to blending historical fiction with family dramas, and it’s a winning combination.
Like much of her previous work, The Buchanan Girls is set in Sydney, with settings many readers will find familiar. Less familiar, but equally fascinating, is the setting of Sydney during World War II. The threat of war was near, provisions were limited, and sons and loved ones were sent to battle, some never to return. Young Ivy’s determination to join the Australian Women’s Army Service, and her experiences at a US Air Base in Townsville, are poignant reminders of the toll the war took on countless young people.
The relationship between twins Ivy and Olive, on the brink of adulthood, is the centrepiece of this novel. While I can’t relate to the unique experience of being an identical twin, the close sibling bonds and rivalries will be relatable to many readers. The arrival of dashing young Leo causes some drama between the girls, and the sisters’ relationship as they grow up is full of complexities. Madden has cleverly hidden their family secrets throughout the book. Many questions remain unanswered until the present day, as Madeline attempts to get to the bottom of the mysteries.
The Buchanan Girls is the perfect read for fans of local historical fiction, WWII narratives and the full breadth of family relationships, both loving and messy.