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Darling Girls
(Review, Book Summary & Spoilers)

By Sally Hepworth

Book review, full book summary and synopsis for Darling Girls by Sally Hepworth, a slow-burn mystery-thriller about three foster sisters and their childhood growing up on a beautiful and terrifying farmhouse.


In Darling Girls by Sally Hepworth, Jessica, Norah and Alicia are foster sisters who were taken in as children by their foster mother, Miss Fairchild, to live on a beautiful farmhouse called Wild Meadows. But the idyllic beauty of the home hid dark secrets that left the girls traumatized for life.

As adults, all three women bear the scars of their experience in foster care, which they each carry in different ways and attempt to hide in order to move forward with their lives. But then, they each get a call from a police detective investigating Wild Meadows, and soon their old wounds must be re-examined as the police try to uncover the truth behind some human remains that have been discovered there.

(The Full Plot Summary is also available, below)

Full Plot Summary

Chapter-by-Chapter Summary
See the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of Darling Girls
Quick Plot Summary

Four-paragraph version: Jessica, Norah and Alicia are foster sisters who are contacted by about an investigation into human remains found at their childhood foster home, Wild Meadows. As children, they were under the care of Miss Holly Fairchild, who was temperamental and unpredictable, often doling out brutal punishments. As adults, Jessica is addicted to benzos (pills), Norah has violent tendencies and is being extorted by a man she punched and Alicia struggles with forming healthy relationships.

As the investigation progresses, the police confront them about Amy, a baby sister they neglected to mention. The women say that as kids they reported Holly's mistreatment of Amy, a baby she once planned to adopt, to authorities. But when the police went to check, there was no sign of Amy and the girls were told they made her up. Meanwhile, the book is interspersed with Holly's own account of her equally brutal childhood at Wild Meadows, where she was impregnated by her stepfather at 15, and the baby was also named Amy ("original Amy").

In present day, it's determined that the human remains belong to the original Amy, who was taken away from Holly by her abusive stepfather. She was told the baby was given to a good family, but now she realizes he must've killed the baby. The Amy the girls once knew ("replacement Amy") is now a woman named Zara. It's revealed that Holly obtained replacement Amy illegally, and Jessica tipped off Holly about them reporting her to authorities in hopes of winning her love. So Holly erased any signs of Amy and gave her away which is why the police thought they made Amy up. In present day, Holly is arrested for lying to the police and illegally obtaining a child.

In the end, it's revealed that Holly made up the story about getting pregnant by her stepfather. Original Amy was the child of Holly's mother and stepfather, who never abused her. Instead, Holly was the one who killed original Amy out of jealousy over the attention and love Amy got. In the final chapters, Jessica goes to rehab, Norah starts dating a guy they once knew, and Alicia is in therapy and becomes a couple with the woman she loves and they adopt two children.

Chapters 1 - 15

Jessica, Norah and Alicia are foster sisters who are contacted by Detective Patel about an investigation into Wild Meadows, the childhood foster home where they met 25 years ago. They're told that human remains have been discovered there and they are asked to come to a town nearby, Port Agatha, to talk to the police.

Jessica runs a successful home-organization business and Alicia is a social worker. Norah has continued to be troubled and has a colorful criminal record of assaults. She charges people to take aptitude tests online on their behalf as part of job application processes.

In a series of flashbacks, the book reveals that Jessica ended up at Wild Meadows under the care of Miss Holly Fairchild after her mother, a seamstress and Chinese immigrant, killed herself. Jessica was four when she arrived. Miss Fairchild is loving towards her at first, but isolates Jessica and punishes her severely when she does things Miss Fairchild doesn't like. Jessica remains desperate for Miss Fairchild's love.

Despite living in a beautiful farmhouse, money is tight, there is rarely enough food, and Miss Fairchild eventually ends up taking on another foster child, Norah, for additional income. Miss Fairchild becomes increasingly temperamental and unpredictable after Norah shows up. Norah's mother died of a drug overdose and this is her seventh foster placement. Norah, 10, is very pretty, but has been sexually abused and otherwise violated at many of her previous foster homes, and she has a history of violence.

Soon after, when Jessica is 13 and Norah is 11, Alicia, 12, arrives as well. Alicia has grown up with her loving grandmother who is in the hospital and is only meant to be there temporarily initially. However, her grandmother passes away. Miss Fairchild dislikes Alicia immediately and is cruel towards her.

Chapters 16 - 23

Meanwhile, the book is interspersed with meetings between Holly Fairchild and her therapist, Dr. Warren. They discuss Holly's own upbringing. She grew up on the farm, but things changed when her father had a heart attack. Her mother fell apart and into a depression and stopped paying their bills. John, the local church accountant, eventually comes over to try to help her mother sort out her finances. He is rigid and strict and unkind towards Holly, but he's able to help them. Her mother's depression lifts and she agrees to marry John, but her mother starts repeating what John says about Holly being an ungrateful brat.

In present day, the three sisters go to Port Agatha and meet with the police.

In a series of flashbacks, the women remember how Miss Fairchild had gotten increasingly irrational and cruel as time went by and drank at night. After the girls are caught asking someone at the stables to take them riding, Miss Fairchild punishes Norah for it, locking her in the basement for hours in the dark because Norah fears the dark. Norah gets increasingly violent and hostile after that and Miss Fairchild ramps up the basement punishments.

Miss Fairchild eventually signs up to do short term care for infants, but she likes the infants initially and then quickly becomes disenchanted with them, pawning them off on the girls to take care of until the case worker comes to pick them up again.

In present day, the three sisters meet three of the "babies" they once cared for -- Rhiannon, Zara and Bianca -- when they go to visit the demolished remnants of Wild Meadows. They go out for a drink and also meet Ishir who used to work at the grocery store nearby and once gave Norah a chocolate bar.

Chapters 24 - 43

In a flashback, it's shown that one day Miss Fairchild comes home with baby Amy, who she says she is going to adopt. She pours her love into Amy and cares for her, determined to bond with the infant. However, Amy eventually comes to prefer the company of the three girls. Miss Fairchild tries harder at first, but eventually becomes harsher and even violent towards baby Amy.

The girls decide they need to find a way to protect Amy and eventually agree to tell their school principal what's going on at home. The police are brought in. The police check out the situation, but they return and say that there's no trace of baby Amy. The girls struggle to prove that Amy exists. They say that the stablehand, Dirk, can vouch for Amy's existence, but he denies seeing anything.

In present day, the women are all dealing with complications in their personal lives. Jessica is addicted to pills (benzos) and has been stealing pills from her clients' homes. Norah is being extorted by a man she assaulted, who says that he's going to the police unless she films herself doing sexually explicit acts for him. And Alicia is in love with her friend Meera, but is afraid of trying to be in stable relationship.

Chapters 44 - 55

It's soon revealed that Holly obtained Amy illegally. When the girls decided to report Holly because of abusive treatment of Amy, Jessica tipped off Holly about them reporting her to authorities in hopes of winning her love. So Holly erased any signs of Amy and gave her away which is why the police thought they made Amy up.

Between stress about being accused of stealing pills and the idea that she could be part of the reason Amy ended up dying, Jessica overdoses on pills and ends up in the hospital.

The meetings between Holly and her therapist then show that at 15, Holly got pregnant by her stepfather John who had been sexually assaulting her. He kept her locked in the basement during the pregnancy and she had the baby, who was named Amy ("original Amy"). She loved Amy. Six weeks after Amy is born, John comes down to drunkenly sexually assault her, but he doesn't latch the door properly. Holly takes Amy and leaves, with her mom giving her some money on the way out, but she doesn't even make it to the end of the driveway. John drives up with her mother, whose eye is bruised. He stops her, hits her, and they take the money and baby and turn around.

In present day, the forensics report comes back and the women learn the baby died over 25 years ago, so it's not the baby they knew as Amy ("replacement Amy"). Instead, Zara is there and realizes that she's Amy because Amy had six toes. Instead, the human remains belong to the baby that Holly had before that, the original Amy.

Chapters 56 - 60

In the end, it's revealed that Holly made up the story about getting pregnant by her stepfather. Original Amy was the child of Holly's mother and stepfather, who never abused her. Instead, Holly was the one who killed original Amy out of jealousy over the attention and love Amy got. In the final chapters, Jessica goes to rehab and Norah starts dating Ishir. Alicia is in therapy and she and Meera adopt two children that Alicia had been working with, Aaron and baby Theo.

For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.

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Book Review

Darling Girls by Sally Hepworth is being released today, her newest mystery thriller offering. I’ve been wanting to revisit Hepworth’s work and the premise of this book caught my attention. Hepworth writes a lot of mystery-thrillers that involve family dynamics, and in this case, it involves three foster sisters.

In Darling Girls, Jessica, Norah and Alicia are foster sisters who are contacted by the police to discuss an investigation into their former foster home, Wild Meadows, from when they were young girls. Wild Meadows was a beautiful farmhouse run by their temperamental and unpredictable caretaker, Miss Fairchild.

As adults, they still each bear the scars of their time in foster care and at Wild Meadows, which they do their best to cover up as they go about their lives. But they’re drawn back in when a police detective reaches out to each of them, asking them to return to Port Agatha, near Wild Meadows, to be questioned about human remains that have been found at the site…

Darling Girls is a slow burn of a story as the horrors of Wild Meadows unfold. It’s also depicts three very different girls and the ways they were affected by their upbringings, their time in the foster system and their experiences with Miss Fairchild.

Hepworth’s newest psychological thriller is engrossing and well-written. I’ve only read one other book by Sally Hepworth, The Good Sister, and I’m reminded of how Hepworth also managed to intertwine a legitimately interesting and thought out story into that mystery as well.

Darling Girls is less twisty than some mystery-thriller novels you’ll find on the shelves, but some of those novels end up feeling like just a collection of plot twists wrapped up in some semblance of a premise. Here, Hepworth has written a solid story that stands on its own and draws you in slowly, with a few twists at the very end.

Read it or Skip it?

If you like slow burn mystery thriller novels, Sally Hepworth’s newest book has a lot to offer. I thought the premise was compelling. The mystery itself and twists aren’t too terribly surprising, but I continued to be interested to see where the story was going.

I’d say this wasn’t amazing, but it was an above average mystery thriller and one I’m sure plenty of mystery-thriller fans would enjoy, especially if you don’t mind a slow burn.

See Darling Girls on Amazon.

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Darling Girls Audiobook

Narrator: Jessica Clarke
Length: 9 hours 5 minutes

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Book Excerpt

Read the first pages of Darling Girls

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