Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nungent

Looking at the bright colours on the cover, the book’s title, and the synopsis, I thought this book was going to be funny and quirky, much like the book “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time” by Mark Haddon. But it turned out to be the darkest, most disturbing book I’ve ever read. (Or at least read all the way through.) Don’t worry – no spoilers!

Sally Diamond is the name given to a young girl when she is adopted by psychiatrist Tom Diamond and his wife Jean. Jean had passed away before the story began.

Sally has a strange background. She was born in captivity, her biological father was a kidnapper and paedophile, and her biological mother was his victim.

Her years in captivity made her socially awkward. She didn’t ever read between the lines in conversation, and she took everything said to her literally.

The story starts with Sally relaying how she put her deceased adopted father’s remains in the incinerator after he had passed away, just as she had once told her to.

Thankfully for Sally, once the death was common knowledge, Sally who at this point had reached 42 years old, was appointed a family friend as a guardian. And it was this guardian who dealt with the authorities, and assured everyone that Sally was not an evil murderer, but simply someone who was very socially deficient.

The story describes how Sally progresses socially, how she gradually learns to make friends, shake hands, and so on. This element of the story is entertaining, and it’s nice to read just how much she comes along.

But then there’s another element of the story…

The other character POV in the book is that of Peter, who is 100% Sally’s biological, slightly older brother.

Before the paedophile could be caught, he had already made a run for it with Peter to the other side of the world. But he brainwashed Peter into believing that he had a rare disorder that meant that if he was touched by anyone other than a blood relative he would die.

I won’t go into details about Peter’s life and memories, except to say that the paedo and Peter then kidnapped someone else, and while that girl was in captivity, Peter worked out that what his father was doing was wrong.

I won’t describe this next part of the story, because that would be a spoiler.

So, I’ll just jump ahead to say that when Peter learns about Sally in the news, he decides to make contact.

There are other characters in the story that serve to make the story more interesting and throw a whole other side to the mix.

There are several definitive themes in the book, primarily misogyny, but also racism, and self-sufficiency. 

The ending was dramatic (no spoilers).. 

There are no rape scenes in the book, but there are scenes of violence and cruelty which I found very disturbing.

I often try to see stories as a fable, even news stories, and I try to see the moral of the story. There are several morals of the story here, I see them as follows:

  • People should realise that paedophilia is a real issue that people need to be very wary of.
  • Misogyny and racism need to be seen by all as shameful and wrong.
  • Children and young people need to be brought up knowing how to socialise, and to learn to become independent.
  • Life isn’t always fair, things can go from bad to worse, but often there can be hope.
  • Villains can occasionally have a nice side.

The reason I gave this book 4 stars is because despite the nature of some of the circumstances, it is well written, the story is compelling, the reader feels invested in Sally’s story, and there are lessons to be learned from it.

I didn’t give it 5 stars because I don’t want to encourage people to read it because it was so disturbing, and no one should have to imagine a story like this being played out.

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