By Martin D’Souza | Opening Doorz Editorial | June 21, 2017

Rating: 4 / 5


The essence:  If fiction is your forte and interplay of emotions your weak point, Leaving Sarah is for you. The manner in which the author weaves the life of every character calls for a maturity of 10 novels. It’s hard to believe that this is June Mendez’s first!

Leaving Sarah Book Review: A roller-coaster of emotions!

Being drawn to read a fiction novel after almost 20 years is a victory in itself for the author. The first few pages after the prologue, lure you into the life of little Sarah Jane, just a few months old, who is left on a train to Khalebhung, where children from distraught homes are cared for at The Abode, a beautiful boarding school nestled in the hills, somewhere off Calcutta.

Nothing is mentioned about the mother, Josephine Trent, with the exception of a note which simply states: “Due to unavoidable circumstances I cannot look after this child anymore so I am entrusting her to the care of The Abode. Please don’t abandon her.”

Accompanying the note is a signed court order granting the school temporary custody of the child.

June Mendez then wields her pen to describe the little children most of who are coming from broken homes, as young as two-years-old, being put on the train to the boarding school. The crying and wailing and the weeping of mothers on the platform are all captured with precision. June then describes Mr. John Smiley and his wife, the ones who will initially be responsible for little Sarah, and the entire life in the boarding school and the manner in which life moves on there. She paints a picture so real that your imagination captures even the sound of the falling leaves.

You immediately know that Sarah Jane will be cared for in the safe environs of this institution that makes ladies of girls. The author quickly moves to two years in the life of the child without a mention of the mother and her circumstances and just when the child, who has become the center of attraction at The Abode, is being readied for adoption in Australia, in walks the mother to claim custody of the child!

Leaving Sarah Book Review
Leaving Sarah Book Review

A cruel fate you will say. Indeed it is when you know only one side of the story. But when June then delves into the life of Josephine Trent, from the time she is five-years-old, you know that there is more to Sarah being abandoned on the train than what you actually thought.

As a reader, you are more concerned about Sarah in the beginning, but then June gently pulls you into the vortex of the life of Josephine Trent for a better part of the book, Leaving Sarah behind and then again brings the two together.

How their lives spiral out of control with Josephine inadvertently giving control of her life to Norbert, Sarah’s father; Sarah’s initial meeting of her parents and the trauma of then not wanting to go home for holidays, and the meeting with her mother and Ivan towards the time she has to move out of the boarding at age 15, all make for an emotional roller-coaster.

In the end, Sarah has to begin where Josephine began 15 years ago. She has to move out of the safe environs of The Abode to live a life of her own. Will she be as clueless as her mother, who made one wrong decision after another, or will she learn from her mother’s mistakes?

That is something only the author will be able to tell us, if she has a sequel planned!

Among the characters, June makes everyone stand out, even if they have been there for only a brief time. Yangden, Tashi, Nick, Naina, Gladys, Aunty Isabelle or even the chowkidar (who appears for a brief minute), each one leaves his or her mark on the reader. But the one who comes in like a storm and then just as quickly barges out, makes you want to tear her out of the pages. Although it was Norbert to be blamed for Josephine’s misfortune, it was Belinda who ensured that her annihilation was final! Where did she come from? What a character!

Another character who stands out is Kristy, Josephine’s friend who stands by her till the end, not to mention Ivan who breezed into her life, left her shell-shocked and then comes back when it’s too late… or is it…?

I wondered why the title Leaving Sarah, when mid-way she was found and cared for by her mother, but when the last chapter unraveled itself, Leaving Sarah seemed apt.

Sarah will have to find herself!

The only drawback I found, which pulls back the brilliant writing, is the continuous flashback when the plot has reached a fever pitch. In the beginning, I can understand when Sarah is all set to leave for Australia but towards the end, it gets a little overbearing. You want to know what will happen next without bothering about what happened in the life of a character that has just been introduced and is of little consequence to the story, or why Sarah detested the rains.

If fiction is your forte and interplay of emotions your weak point, this book is for you. The manner in which the author weaves the life of every character calls for a maturity of 10 novels. It’s hard to believe that this is June’s first!

Leaving Sarah Book Review
Leaving Sarah Book Review: It is hard to believe that this is the author’s first novel.

Figuratively speaking, June Mendez is a juggler who adeptly tries to maintain a balance between managing her home, writing and educating her three homeschoolers and other children who often seek her guidance. Her ultimate goal is to see her children and the other children she guides, become better citizens of the world. June lives with her husband and her children in Lonavala, a beautiful hill station in the Western Ghats of India. She squeezes her writing into the spaces she finds between homeschooling her children and managing her home. Creative writing has always been an area of great interest to her right from childhood. From actively reading stories to writing short stories of her own, she has found reading and writing to be highly cathartic. She finds the liberty that a writer has to weave [the intrigue, despair and joy into a story ] at will, extremely fulfilling.

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