Friday, 30 January 2015

Review of Unforgivable by Sharon Robards

Reviewed by Liza Perrat

Set in 1960s Sydney, Unforgivable tells the story of seventeen-year old pregnant and unmarried Sylvia, who is sent by her parents to St Joseph’s Hospital, a Catholic Church-run institution catering to unmarried mothers, to await the birth of her baby.

When Sister Bernard immediately demands that Sylvia sign the adoption papers, Sylvia is equally determined she won’t. She loves her boyfriend, Tommy, who has promised to stand by her, and wants to keep her baby. Very quickly though, Sylvia finds herself a virtual prisoner at St. Joseph’s and realises she must fight to stand her ground, not to mention her battle against the stigma, shame and secrecy of being pregnant and unmarried in 1966 in Australia.

Besides Sylvia, the other two main characters are excellently drawn: Kim, who befriends Sylvia, and whose present day perspective, after she gave up her baby, is also cleverly woven into the story. Sister Gregory is an empathetic nun who often struggles with both the Catholic doctrine and her vocation.

Unforgivable truly brings to light the plight of unmarried mothers and adoption issues during that time, and we realise how much things have changed since. It also raises issues about national conscription and the Vietnam War and the changes brought to the Catholic Church by Vatican II. Sydney in the sixties is excellently evoked through the author’s use of celebrities, events and fashions of the day.

I felt the ending was a bit abrupt, and would have liked more information on Sylvia's later life and what happened to Sister Gregory. However, all in all, Unforgivable is a poignant, authentic and compelling read; a powerful story about unforgivable decisions and acts upon the innocent––young mothers being forced to give up their babies and go back to the real world and carry on as if nothing had happened. Highly recommended.

Sharon Robards is the bestselling Historical Fiction author of A Woman Transported. She lives two hundred kilometres north of Sydney, on the beautiful and rugged east coast of Australia, in a place called Port Stephens, a sanctuary for dolphins and a Mecca for tourists who come to see an annual migration of 6,000 whales each year.

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