The Teacher’s Secret by Suzanne Leal
“But it was so long ago,’ he says. ‘Can’t they take that into account?’ He shakes his head. ‘Not when there was a child involved.”
In this tapestry of tales from a small, sleepy town in Australia, a school teacher watches his career collapse before him, a mother battles through the break-down of her marriage, and a glamorous model arrives from overseas, shrouded in mystery. Nothing is quite as it seems in this novel – each of the characters have their own stories to tell, their own griefs with which to contend, and their own secrets to confront.
As Terry Pritchard, assistant principal at Brindle Public School, grapples to hold on to his 30-year career, suspicions and doubts are cast on his character from all over the town. What happened to cause his sudden ‘retirement,’ and what does it have to do with the new acting principal, Laurie Matthews? Does Laurie just have it our for Terry, as many of the local people believe, or does she know more than she’s letting on? Nina, a young woman and mother to three year old Emily, knows more than most about this teacher’s demise, and finds herself with some lively shoes to fill in his absence. All this, whilst also battling her own demons and crumbling personal relationships.
In Rebecca Chuma’s hasty escape from Africa, some political turmoil is addressed, although I would like to have seen this unraveled a little more. The woman’s anguish at waiting on the results of her VISA application is palpable, as is her need to ground herself and her family somewhere they can call home, but there is no longing for her mother country, no huge upheaval, necessarily. That said, Rebecca’s journey throughout the novel as she befriends the women in her neighbourhood and contributes to the school play is particularly affecting.
The Teacher’s Secret is easy to read, light-hearted and uplifting despite its sometimes sombre topics. The novel balances the darker elements of human existence – divorce, separation, refugee-status, the loss of a job and the loss of loved ones – with positivity, hope, kindling romance and redemption. It was lovely to dip in to the lives of so many different people, all from different backgrounds and cultures, all with different perspectives and outlooks on the world in which they live. What I took from this novel first and foremost is that no one is all ‘good’ or all ‘bad’ – we are all an amalgamation of our past experiences, morals, dilemmas, wants and desires. The characters in The Teacher’s Secret all strive to do good, even if they don’t all manage to go about it in the right way. Suzanne Leal’s novel is a gentle reminder that we’re all doing our best.
The Teacher’s Secret launched in paperback on March 1st 2018. Order the book from Legend Press in paperback or ebook here.
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