My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For those of you who follow my reviews, it will be no secret that I adored Nicole Hayes’s debut novel, The Whole of My World. She had a big job ahead of her to equal the emotional impact and engagement of that first effort – and she has absolutely achieved it.
When I finished One True Thing, I immediately wanted to read it again. Not because I felt like I had missed anything, but because I didn’t want to let the characters go. In Frankie, Hayes has constructed a young woman who is smart, funny, vulnerable and loves Pearl Jam. Frankie is the kind of person I (and I suspect a lot of other people I know) would have wanted to be friends with at school.
Frankie’s mum, Rowena, is poised to be the next Premier of Victoria. We enter the lives of Frankie’s family in the lead-up to the election and the media maelstrom it entails. Gender politics is to the fore here, and Frankie, her brother Luke and her Dad are caught up in it whether they want to be or not. Rowena tells Frankie, they are only words and can’t hurt her, but it is clear the words do hurt. When Rowena is snapped by a photographer having a clandestine meeting with a young man, the press goes wild, making all sorts of insinuations about Rowena’s moral character. In this portrayal of a media happy to brand Rowena a “witch” and other unsavoury things, we see echoes of Julia Gillard’s treatment, and also that of Joan Kirner, by the fourth estate.
As if that wasn’t enough for Frankie to contend with, she finds herself falling for a handsome photographer from her school and feels like she is losing her best friend, Kessie, to a girlfriend she has never met. Secret upon secret builds in this novel, until they start spilling over and then Frankie and her family have to deal with the fallout. Through it all, Frankie stands tall – loyal and feisty to the end. Other standout characters for me were: Kessie, Frankie’s forthright best friend and bandmate; Luke, her loving and funny little brother; and Gran Mulvaney, who endeared me with her love for Frankie and her daughter, Rowena.
This is a wonderful novel, rich in contemporary references, a call to arms for gender equality and a love song to Pearl Jam. Frankie is a girl I will hold in my heart for a long time, because she reached into me and reminded me that it is okay to be vulnerable, that you can come back from heartbreak and that family, is the most powerful bond of all.
I urge you to read it. For ages 13 and up.