SE­CRETS OF SOUTH­ERN GIRLS

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Debut Fiction -

Ha­ley Har­ri­gan, Source­books Soft­cover $15.99 (400pp) 978-1-4926-4755-3

Ha­ley Har­ri­gan’s Se­crets of South­ern Girls opens with a con­fes­sion: “It’s not your fault she’s dead. It’s the same thing Julie has told her­self, over and over, for ten years. But it’s a lie, and she knows it.” From that point on, Julie Portland’s story falls apart as she fi­nally faces a death that might not be the mur­der it seems.

It’s been ten years since Julie Portland grad­u­ated high school and left Lawrence Mills, Mis­sis­sippi, for New York City. It’s also been ten years since she buried her best friend, Reba Mcleod, but Reba won’t rest easy. Al­ready haunted by Reba’s death, when Reba’s old high-school boyfriend, Au­gust El­liott, tracks Julie down and in­sists she help him find Reba’s miss­ing diary, she re­lents—de­spite the fact that find­ing the diary re­quires them to re­turn to the scene of the crime: home.

Au­gust’s in­sis­tence might be driven by his need for clo­sure, but, first, it breaks ev­ery­thing open. Julie’s move­ment to­ward the truth is mir­rored by a steady pro­gres­sion through Reba’s journal en­tries. As Julie gets closer to the truth, she must con­front her long-held as­sump­tions about who Reba re­ally was and who she needed Reba to be.

Har­ri­gan is a great prose stylist who knows how to sus­tain the ten­sion and tone re­quired of a South­ern Gothic novel. Her writ­ing is evoca­tive and at­mo­spheric, whether the ac­tion takes place un­der the bright lights of Man­hat­tan or in Mis­sis­sippi’s weedy heat. As the story shifts be­tween Julie and Au­gust’s search and en­tries from Reba’s miss­ing diary, past and present are bridged, and the shadow side of friend­ship, fam­ily, and mem­ory emerges. Har­ri­gan’s world is, in Reba’s own words, “like be­ing im­mersed in a fairy tale. Its in­tri­cacy was mad­den­ing and sti­fling … all dis­turbingly beau­ti­ful.”

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