My Secret Sister

by Helen Edwards and Jenny Lee Smith

It may not be entirely obvious from the blurb but this is a true story, told in the first person by Jenny and Helen, alternating through the book, assisted by ghost writer, Jacquie Buttriss. As such it is more moving than fiction would be because, as you read, your heart goes out to these little girls and what they experienced.

It is written in a quite matter of fact tone and always from the perspective of the girls, supplemented occasionally by a comment from the women they have become. It mostly travels at quite a pace from about 1950 to the present day, describing childhoods spent in the North-East of England. It is a social history told from the perspective of two people living it, demonstrating the opportunities available to some and how others could be left behind. At the end, it is a joyful celebration of two twins (as the blurb gives away) finding each other.

The book never steps out of the first-person frame of reference so there is no analysis or discussion of what is happening to the girls or of what the people around them were thinking. I cannot believe that the neglect and abuse of one of the girls could continue to be allowed. I am shocked that no-one, even in the family, intervened at any point. I suspect something would be done today because teachers have more responsibilities and there were some signs that they might have investigated. However, on the other hand, there are still cases today where children are harmed and the beefed-up system fails them, so who knows?

The dynamic driving the story for me was finding out how the two women meet and that took a long time coming. However, the stories of their lives, the parallels, similarities and differences, kept me intrigued. I think the only times I baulked were where I might have yearned for some of that analysis and discussion as to how this could have happened. Apart from that, these seem to be two extraordinary lives. Helen lived in South Africa and Australia and America and Jenny became a professional golfer. These seem amazing trajectories for the times.

This is a domestic social history. Even though Jenny Lee Smith was a well-known professional golfer and there is some discussion about how she became that, who she trained with and her career, there is not sufficient detail of the tour nor of the technical aspects to satisfy a golfing fan. It is a book that will appeal to people who are interested in the family histories, social history of the second half of the twentieth century in England and human interest stories. If that is you, I heartily recommend it to you.

It’s a good read and it is an ultimately heart-warming story.
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