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The Family Next Door


The Family Next Door

Appearances are deceiving, and so it is in this picture-perfect neighborhood in the Melbourne suburbs of THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR. This was my first Sally Hepworth book, and it won’t be my last. I truly enjoyed the fast pace and a story that kept me wondering and puzzling about what was happening.

Living in a neighborly manner, Essie, Ange and Fran aren’t really friends, but when a new woman moves into the neighborhood, the curiosity of her brings them closer. Isabelle eerily knows too much about each woman and her family. She is mysterious, caught in some fabrications and seems ever-present at odd moments. Nothing is what it appears, and while each woman has her behind-closed-doors secrets and self-doubts, each also ultimately learns that honesty and truth-telling are the route to security and happiness in their lives.

Those who have read some of my reviews know that I like to dive into a book without knowing much --- if anything --- about the story. You also know that I leave the quick summary to the publishers so I can get on with my impressions, so here you are:

“Small, perfect towns often hold the deepest secrets.

From the outside, Essie’s life looks idyllic: a loving husband, a beautiful house in a good neighborhood, and a nearby mother who dotes on her grandchildren. But few of Essie’s friends know her secret shame: that in a moment of maternal despair, she once walked away from her newborn, asleep in her carriage in a park. Disaster was avoided and Essie got better, but she still fears what lurks inside her, even as her daughter gets older and she has a second baby.

When a new woman named Isabelle moves in next door to Essie, she is an immediate object of curiosity in the neighborhood. Why single, when everyone else is married with children? Why renting, when everyone else owns? What mysterious job does she have? And why is she so fascinated with Essie? As the two women grow closer and Essie’s friends voice their disapproval, it starts to become clear that Isabelle’s choice of neighborhood was no accident. And that her presence threatens to bring shocking secrets to light.”

"Reminiscent of fellow Australian author Liane Moriarty’s style and twisty-mystery plot, THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR had me up late into the nights reading with 'just a little more' becoming hours and chapters."

While I definitely would recommend this book and thought it was a great read, I did find myself wondering why none of these women had truer friends. Outside of their neighborly socializing, it was made clear that they didn’t know each other that well, that they weren’t really friends, and there was no one else who filled that space for any of them. We need our girlfriends, we need other women to lean on and chat with, and to analyze stuff together. So this distinction between friends and neighbors --- a distant, arms-length relationship dictated only by proximity rather than joy in being together --- struck me as either sad or unrealistic.

Despite that point, I found the book chock full of truisms. Certain phrases and images portray family life so vividly that I highlighted them and laughed remembering the days of early motherhood exhaustion.

A few of my favorites:

  • “Fran had one of those powerful waves of love reserved for parents of children who are asleep.”
  • “There was truly nothing sexier than a man who did the dishes.”
  • “There was something tortuous about the dinner, bath, and bed routine --- not least because it had to be done every single day.”
  • “When you had children at home, you didn’t waste your alone-time looking at other people’s babies.”

I found myself chuckling and nodding at the spot-on descriptions that all mothers can relate to, no matter how old their children are now.

Questions also percolated as I read: Do that many marriages have these quite significant fractures? Do married couples really not communicate more openly? Is everyone in real life keeping so many secrets? Am I naïve, or is this reality? There is nothing I like more than book-inspired pondering and musings.

Reminiscent of fellow Australian author Liane Moriarty’s style and twisty-mystery plot, THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR had me up late into the nights reading with “just a little more” becoming hours and chapters. The premise will hook you, and the storytelling will keep you reading and wondering until the very end.

Reviewed by Leah DeCesare ( on March 16, 2018

The Family Next Door
by Sally Hepworth