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Likely Stories - Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent.

Nugent, an Irish writer, always starts her books with a catchy opening line. Any time she has a new book out, I immediately turn to the first sentence to see what sort of tale awaits me.

Opening to the first page, we read Sally's adoptive father's joke to his neurodivergent daughter, Sally,

"Put me out with the trash," he said regularly.

"When I die, put me out with the trash. I'll be dead, so won't know any different. You'll be crying your eyes out," and he would laugh and I'd laugh too because we both knew that I wouldn't be crying my eyes out. I never cry. When the time came, I followed his instructions. He was small and frail and eighty-two years old by then, so it was easy to get him into one large garden garbage bag.

This event got the attention of the town near where Sally lived and brought unwanted attention to this reclusive woman. Interestingly, most of the town called Sally, Mary. With the death of Sally's father, Sally begins to spend more time with the townspeople who take her in and help her understand how to function in the world. The found family aspect to the book is one of the reasons it landed on my favorites of 2023 list. The townspeople also reveal parts of Sally's past that she was unaware of including why they call her Mary.

This is because Sally does not remember the first seven years of her life that were spent with a mother who was kidnapped and held captive by her biological father. Her adoptive family renamed her. As more is revealed about her sad beginnings, we also meet Sally's extended family and brother from the same parents whose life trajectory was much different than Sally's.

There is also a subplot of true crime podcasters who become amateur sleuths searching for clues into what happened to Sally.

There is a darkness to this story although nothing graphic is written on the pages. It's left up to the reader's imagination. But this is balanced with humor and redemption. It was important for the author that the reader laugh with Sally and not at Sally.

I interviewed Nugent for Fabled's book club in November and she told me that the American version of her book had an extra chapter at the end that the Irish/UK print did not. The extra chapter reveals a more hopeful future for Sally. Nugent said her publishers told her that American audiences love more hopeful stories and she stated that she actually loves the American version even more than the Irish version now.

Short chapters and a propulsive plot make this a quick but fascinating read.

Until the next episode of Likely Stories, wish you a pile of good books and a cozy reading spot.

An over 30-year resident of Waco, Elizabeth Barnhill works as the adult book buyer at Waco’s independent bookshop, Fabled. She spends her days reading books, talking with publishers and authors, conducting personalized shopping appointments at Fabled, and curating books for all types of readers in the Waco community and beyond. She is also a regular contributor to the Wacoan’s Cover to Cover feature and book podcasts including the Currently Reading podcast. She has two degrees from Baylor University and is married with three grown children. Her book recommendations can be found @Wacoreads on Instagram.