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Book Review: Jilted by Rachael Johns

 Book Review: Jilted by Rachael Johns

Every time I visit my grandma in her hometown of Ouyen, in Victorias Mallee region, Im always struck by how little changes from year to year. Ouyen is the place of my childhood holidays, and so much of what I remember of it from then remains the same today. The red, Mars-like ground with its scrubby, reachy trees; bingo nights at the local pub, where the same dusty farmers sit by the front door playing the pokies; the freezing swimming pool with its faded diving board; the golf course with its rabbit-made divots and terrible sand-scrape greens. Even the people remain the same, and sometimes I have the eerie impression that when I leave, everything pauses until I return.

In a place where little changes, its no surprise that theres such a strong, shared sense of communityand a very, very long memory when it comes to those who have slighted the town or one of its residents. Needless to say, I wasnt at all surprised to read the gossip that precedes the return of Ellie Hughes to the small town of Hopes Junction (aside: Ive never heard of an Aussie town with a name like thisIm more used to stuff like Underbool, Wycheproof and Manangatang) in Rachael Johns debut Jilted.

Having ditched her fiance, golden boy Flynn Quartermaine, on the day of their wedding ten years before, Ellie hasnt exactly earned herself much goodwill in the small town she temporarily called home in her teens. Since that fateful day, however, Ellies spread her wings, moving to Sydney and managing to nab herself an ongoing role in a popular soapie. But in a small town, out of sight isnt exactly out of mind, and when Ellie returns to look after her ailing sometime foster mother Mat, shes not exactly greeted with open arms.

Its not just the townsfolk who are stuck in the past, though. Upon arriving at Mats house, Ellie heads off to the bedroom of her youth only to find herself staring down at her never-worn wedding dress, which has remained there on her bed, untouched, for a decade. (Mat is not one for tidying up after other people.) Ellie finds herself reflecting on her relationship with Flynn, and how things might have turned out differently. Of course, being a small town, its only a matter of, well, about five minutes, until the two ex-lovers cross paths, and oh, the tension.

But attraction aside, both Ellie and Flynn have moved on with their lives, and they have plenty else on their minds to keep them from leaping back into the romantic fray. Ellie has her hands full attempting to regain the trust of the suspicious locals, while Flynns busy keeping an eye on his mischievous kid sister and waggling his eyebrows at the local nurse. Both do their best to remain civil whilst going about their daily business, but again and again Flynn finds himself sticking up for Ellie when shes treated poorly, and Ellie, in spite of her efforts to present herself as unaffected by the unfair treatment she receives, finds herself turning to Flynn for support.

Structurally, Jilted plays out as a traditional romance novel, but theres substantially more scope to it than allowed by the strict word count required for category romances, and it sits quite easily in the newly popularised rural romance niche. There are a good number of subplots here that allow for the rounding out of the main romance plot and the characters, something which isnt ordinarily possible in traditional romances. Johns does an excellent job of leveraging  these elements, and we really do get a sense of Hopes Junction as a community, rather than a simple setting into which hero and heroine are deposited, as can so often and awkwardly be the case. Her efforts to introduce depth to even her minor characters are admirable, and the novel is all the stronger for thisEllie and Flynn dont exist in some sort of romantic limbo, but rather as part of a wider context where their past and present actions and relationships have an influence.

Independence and identity are key themes of the novel, and its not just hero and heroine who are seeing to affirm their sense of self. Even the minor characterssuch as Flynns younger sister Lucy, who is exploring both a potential career identity as well as her sexual identity, and the flirtatious Lauren, whose outwardly bimbo-esque persona is slowly peeled away to reveal something much deeperhave goals and aspirations, and are constantly stretching and reaching. Mat, who has been both friend and mother to Ellie, is also determinedly independent, something highlighted by her career as a travel writer. She clings fiercely to this independence even throughout the twists and turns Jilted has in mind for her, and its easy to see how her guidance has shaped Ellie as an individual.

That said, I did have a few reservations about the book that dropped it down slightly below excellent status for me. First, Im a cynical, grumpy person who finds it difficult to suspend disbelief at the thought of a couple reuniting ten years after their breakup, particularly when the couple in question were teens when they first began dating. People change so much during their teens and twenties, and this is certainly so in the case of Flynn and Ellie, that I find a reunion narrative of this type a difficult one to accept. Ellies decision to give up her life and career in Sydney for a small-time gig in Hope Junction running a drama school also seems a little unbelievable, not least because not only does this not seem to jive with Ellies progressive outlook on life, but Im not sure how a town of less than 2000 people would support a drama school.

Probably my biggest bugbear with the book, however, involved the reveal about Ellies reasons for leaving Hopes Junction, Flynns response to it, and the black moment where all appears lost. Without giving too much away here, I have to admit that I felt disappointed about the portrayal of and response to such a sensitive situation, and one that I felt sat oddly with the rest of the narrative in the first place. I couldnt understand Ellies reaction to the situationas an independent, empowered woman, why wouldnt she have spoken to someone about what happened, rather than blaming herself and running away? Moreover, Flynns response to the situation is cruel, self-serving, short-sighted and trivialises what is a hugely complex and deeply affecting situation, and to be honest, after this moment, I was all for Ellie ditching him and returning to Sydney to find a bloke with more progressive values. Instead, Flynns the one who does the ditching, leaving Ellie to her shame and misery and becoming tragically desperate in her efforts to reach him.

Still, although this element did have a significant impact on my appreciation of its ending, overall I did enjoy Jilted, and think that Rachael Johns is an author with a lot to offer this genre. If youre a fan of rural romances, Id recommend giving this one a try. 

 Rating: star Book Review: Jilted by Rachael Johnsstar Book Review: Jilted by Rachael Johnsstar Book Review: Jilted by Rachael Johnshalfstar Book Review: Jilted by Rachael Johnsblankstar Book Review: Jilted by Rachael Johns (very good)

 With thanks to Harlequin Australia for the review copy

Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing Jilted from

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  1. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out /

    A really thoughtful review Stephanie, you are too young to be so cynical though!

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks, Shelleyrae!

      I figure its better to get in the habit of cynicism nowIm easing myself into it so that Im ready for when old age hits. :)

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