Margaret Way loves Australia, especially the Outback. It is evident in her descriptions and in the way she brings it to the reader. Sarah’s Baby is the start of a series on the Outback and is clearly setting the stage for the following stories. This story is an engaging and heartbreaking tale of loss and a second chance at happiness.
Dr. Sarah Dempsey has always loved Kyall McQueen. As childhood sweethearts they felt as if they were soul mates. One lovely evening, in their special place in the wilderness, they made love, and Sarah became pregnant. At only 15, she was scared and yet euphoric. But the euphoria did not last. Kyall’s grandmother, Ruth, the matriarch of the McQueens, saw to that very quickly. Sarah did not have a chance to tell Kyall her news, only her mother. Her mother contacted Ruth and Ruth took control. She convinced Sarah and her mother that this child would ruin every chance Kyall had of being a success in life. She tried to convince Sarah to have an abortion. When Sarah refused, Ruth convinced her she should go away to have the baby, promising full support if she lied to Kyall and hid the truth from him. Sarah reluctantly agreed.
Unfortunately, when Sarah delivered her baby, she could not give her away, telling Ruth she was keeping this little girl she so briefly held in her arms. The next day, Sarah discovered the little girl had tragically died of respiratory problems. Devastated, Sarah again listened to Ruth, who sent her to private boarding school and on to college to get her degree in medicine.
Now, fifteen years later, Sarah returns to the small town in the outback called Koomera Crossing, to bury her mother. Once she is there, she is asked by the town doctor to return permanently, as he is dying of cancer and the town needs her help. Proud, mature, and grown-up, Sarah is no longer afraid of Ruth McQueen. She agrees to stay.
One person who convinces her is Kyall, a man she has never found a replacement for and one who still loves her. He was told that Sarah could not stand the fact that she had given him her virginity and that she had to get away. He believed it, as his grandmother had never lied to him, and Sarah had not tried to contact him. But he still loved her and he, too, could not find anyone who reached his heart like Sarah did.
Can their love survive this secret that has shaped Sarah’s life and will Kyall ever forgive her for keeping the truth from him? Will Ruth step aside and allow Sarah into the family, now that she is a respected doctor and not the poor little girl she was fifteen years ago?
Sarah is a relatively strong heroine, but like all who hold a devastating secret, her actions are ruled by her fear and her guilt, rather than the strength and ethics she has learned over the years. This diminishes her somewhat, but ultimately she stands up for herself and redeems herself.
Kyall is a little less defined. His grandmother has doted on him all his life. He is the only one she has loved other than her husband, who died when they were young. Yet, Kyall has grown up with a strong sense of loyalty, responsibility and respect for others. He is loved by all and is not arrogant despite the power he possesses. His story is told only as it relates to Ruth and Sarah. I never connected with him as a man, as most of his life’s details were left unmentioned. Yet he ultimately stands up for Sarah and for himself, so he is a good hero for this type of story.
What keeps this book from recommended status is that lack of depth in the characters and the stereotypical characterization of Ruth. Here is a woman who is truly warped by her power. She thinks she is invincible and she plays that hand over and over. Yet, no one realizes how truly terrible she is until the truths start to unravel. And she can be nasty to everyone else, while never showing Kyall that side of herself. Either Kyall is extremely naïve or she is a great actress. This part of the story did not feel realistic.
What saves the story is the mystery surrounding many of Ruth’s actions. Way does a good job of weaving the story together to allow Sarah to unravel the mysteries to get to the truth. The truth is revealed in a nice, melodramatic love story with both a bittersweet and happy ending, with plenty of staging for the next several stories in the series.
Sarah’s Baby will keep you interested to see how things turn out. Additionally it makes me look forward to a good series from an author who wants us to see the “real” Australia.