Aussie Book Review: The Vale Girl by Nelika McDonald

valeThe Vale Girl by Nelika McDonald


Review copy provided by publisher

Pan Macmillan, August 2013

Synopsis- “If you leave no trace, nobody could say later whether you were even there at all.”

Fourteen-year-old Sarah Vale has gone missing in the small town of Banville. She’s the daughter of the town whore so no one seems particularly concerned.

No one cares except Tommy Johns, who loves Sarah Vale with all the unadulterated, tentative passion of a teenage boy. He galvanises the town’s policeman Sergeant Henson and, together, they turn the town inside out, searching for the lost girl.

A delicate and layered exploration of secrets and lies, forgotten children and absent parents, and the long shadows of the past.

Review- The Vale Girl is the debut novel by Australian author Nelika McDonald. An intriguing tale, The Vale Girl explores small town dynamics and prejudice and how a teenage girl can go missing without a trace.

Residing in the small town of Banville, Sarah Vale is fifteen years old, she’s the target of bullies, she’s vulnerable to abuse and her mother is the town prostitute.  Everyone likes to pretend that the house doesn’t exist or that they are superior to the Vale girls and yet her mother has quite a consistent pool of clientele.

Sarah, somewhat parentified (she basically runs the house as her mother is also an alcoholic) but is also quite naïve in some respects. When she’s not being given a difficult time by the boys in town she’s basically invisible. Except for her one mate, Tommy. He’s the only one who notices when she is missing from school and discovers her backpack and uniform abandoned by the river they frequently swam in; so he reports her to the police. Sergeant Henson begins to investigate her disappearance; he learns about how the community functions and how young Sarah lived.

Told in alternating viewpoints from Sarah, Tommy and Sergeant Henson’s viewpoint the reader is drawn into the mystery behind her disappearance. There’s also an insight into a man who is a client of Sarah’s mother and has a special interest in Sarah; he’s a potential suspect.

McDonald does a commendable job at portraying this small Australian town, exploring the social issues, Sarah’s vulnerable upbringing and teenager Tommy’s determination to find his best friend. At times The Vale Girl is disturbing, it’s sad but it’s also hopeful and intriguing. There was a bit of a twist at the end that I didn’t suspect until I was nearly upon it which is great from a suspense point of view. Though I was happy with the ending it didn’t feel particularly believable.

The Vale Girl is an intriguing mystery set in a small town with an interesting and (realistically) flawed cast of characters. An author to watch out for.

Overall Rating


“I loved this book!”

The Vale Girl can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2013 challenge:


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