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Aussie Book Review: Room 46 by Helen McKenna

“As far as nursing homes go Rosehill Gardens is a decent enough place. But both Grace and Edith are desperate to escape its confines. Regardless of the word ‘Volunteer’ featured prominently on her official name badge, Grace doesn’t want to be there. The twenty-year-old’s life is enough of a mess without being obliged to front up every week and read to an elderly stranger.

And Edith might have the most colourful room in the whole facility but her bright and bold surrounds mask a tragic past with which she is still coming to terms. Her trademark positivity is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, particularly when she knows she will never truly belong at Rosehill.

Everyone has a different story to tell and some of those stories are painful and difficult to communicate. But can the simple act of storytelling begin the process of healing for Grace and for Edith?”
I was somewhat intrigued by the description of this book when I received it in the mail a few weeks ago and I couldn’t wait for it to reach the top of my pile.
Needless to say, on finishing it, I was thoroughly satisfied.
I first came across Helen McKenna a few years back when she published her novel, The Beach House (my review here) which I enjoyed immensely and was blown away by how seamlessly she wrote five stories in one.
In Room 46, Helen once again delivers giving us the stories of Grace and Edith – Grace, a young woman who is mentally unstable; and Edith, a resident at the Rosehill Gardens nursing home.
Grace is very broken by her past and suffers debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. These bouts are so serious that she is unable to hold down paid employment and therefore has to exist on disability payments. It is in one of her meetings with her social worker that she is told about a government initiative in which volunteers are sent out to read stories to residents of nursing homes. And so it is that she meets Edith.
I love the way Helen establishes the basics of Grace’s character in the beginning, slowly building her up, layer by layer, using the stories she tells Edith and the information she imparts along the way so that by the end of the novel, the reader has gotten to know Grace so well that it feels as if she’s sitting in the room with you.
Room 46 is a lovely story with two leading ladies whom readers will instantly connect with and relate to and I derived extreme pleasure from reading it. She develops her characters well, endearing them to the reader who is also captured by all the twists and turns that Grace’s life begins to take.
It’s a quiet, contemplative and heart-warming read that isn’t overly sentimental but will nonetheless still pull at the strings of your heart.
I wish to thank Helen McKenna for providing me with a hard copy of this lovely little novel.
About the Author
Helen McKenna grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
Throughout her childhood she loved to read and write stories, but after school took the sensible option of a ‘real’ job at the Commonwealth Bank instead of chasing her literary dreams.
Fast forward a couple of years and she had a good job with great conditions, but no passion for what she was doing. A major restructure of the bank seemed like a great opportunity to go back to study.
Helen completed her BA at the University of Queensland and a few years after graduating (after some overseas travel and another non-literary job in local government) she started a business assisting people to write their life stories.
While she loved it and it fulfilled her dream of writing for a living she still couldn’t quell her desire to write creatively as well and revisited a manuscript of a novel she had begun a few years before.
She has always loved the beach and, during her childhood, visited a couple of old timber, Queenslander holiday houses. She never forgot the ambience of those classic old houses and really wanted to write a story based on such a house. That story was The Beach House, which was published in 2011.
Helen’s second novel Room 46 was published in 2015 and she is currently working on her third.

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