BOOK CLUB: The Things That Matter Most

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The Things That Matter Most by Australian author Gabbie Stroud is an engrossing story with a realistic mix of drama, mystery, intrigue, and heartache.

St Margaret’s Catholic Primary School based in Boltford; Central NSW is in crisis. The school is due for registration and must meet all standards, but there is a serious pending litigation looming. 

Told in a multiple-person narrative, the story switches between characters allowing you to become fully invested in each one and understand how the strands of the story come together. Even though it starts off with a basic premise of a school in crisis, the novel slowly builds up to something far more powerful.

I thought this book would be a light read, but it is far more than that surprising the reader with interesting developments and twists every step of the way. Gabbie Stroud creates an array of remarkably interesting and very loveable characters who all make the experience of reading the novel exciting and more elaborate. I thoroughly enjoyed being privy to their professional and personal lives. 

For forty years, Derek the Assistant Principal has been teaching, now he must be accountable for all that he does since he dropped the ball on administration, heading into retirement he just wants to teach, not be micromanaged. 

Starting his twelve-month contract Tyson was feeling nervous about his first year on the job and rightfully so. What types of students will he have, will they like him, and will he be accepted for who is?

Sally-Ann is an enthusiastic caring teacher, she is keen to spread positivity and genuinely enjoys engaging with students, her only wish is to have a child of her own. 

Bev the administrative officer is dealing with a serious diagnosis, she is strong-willed and runs a tight ship — never holding back from speaking her mind. 

Sixth-grade student Lionel Merrick’s compassion in the face of difficulty was admirable, he is such a sweet, beautiful, and likeable character, and I wished desperately that he would get the peace he craved. There is a good balance of heavy subject matter and lighthearted themes. The humour helps soften the sombre themes, and this balance is what is needed.

The author’s insight and imagination are beyond impressive, she has flawlessly captured the emotional turmoil of not only the lives of teachers and the difficulties they face but also what the child’s learning environment is like. Reading this book will make you cringe, shudder, cry and genuinely feel for the characters. 

Undoubtedly, the world needs good teachers more than ever as it faces increasingly complicated issues that cannot be solved easily. Whether you are a parent, teacher, or someone considering becoming a teacher, you will benefit from reading this book. 

The cover of the book lets readers know that something is not right. The imagery is striking with the beautiful sky and blending colour palette. If I saw it in a bookstore, it would grab my attention. 

I cannot express how much I enjoyed this book; it is a hard-hitting story that will make you stop and think. Make sure you have tissues in reach, I highly recommend it. 

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club members are reading The Things That Matter Most by Gabbie Stroud. You can read their comments below, or leave your own review.

9 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Things That Matter Most

  1. ‘The things that matter most,’ by Gabbie Stroud is centred around St Margaret’s Catholic School. However, the happenings at St Margaret’s are applicable to every school, both state and independent across this broad country of ours. Each school environment contains its own unique mix of characters and personalities.
    After teaching in a number of these schools over a forty year career I can indeed attest to the accuracy of the procedures and some of the characters within this setting. They are in fact, different but the same, as every other school environment.
    Stroud’s portrayal of teachers, administration and students is accurate in each detail. Within each school there lives an experienced teacher like Derek who is hindered by the demands of the bureaucracy and simply wants to be left to do what he does best; a nervous but enthusiastic Tyson, in his first classroom trying to fit the education jigsaw pieces together; a Bev who organises the school in her own individual way yet still allows the school leadership team to think they are in charge.
    Certainly every school has a Lionel! Indeed, most schools in particular parts of the country have such a high proportion of Lionel’s that welfare is their main concern with learning taking second place.
    As Stroud so aptly stated….”teaching and caring are one and the same.”
    A good teacher cares about the whole child and that’s why Stroud has done a fantastic job. She has presented the art of teaching as it truly is in all its aspects.
    Congratulations! I loved it from start to finish and cried many tears over Lionel and the many Lionel’s in my past.
    Definitely the best thing I have read this year!

  2. The Things That Matter Most by Gabbie Stroud is told from the different perspectives of staff and students at the fictional St Margaret’s Primary School in country NSW. Derek the Assistant Principal, has been teaching for 40 years and just wants to focus on what he does best – teaching, not all the endless administration. Tyson is a new graduate in his first year of teaching, trying to figure out what he is doing and how to do it. Sally-Ann loves her students but wants a baby of her own and Bev is the office lady who, like all office ladies around Australia runs the school, but lets the teachers think they do. Then there is Lionel, the Year 6 boy who loves school, is helpful and caring to all, especially his little sister Lacey.

    With registration due, litigation pending and a parent with way too much to say, the staff at St Margaret’s remind us that school staff are human beings with their own personal struggles and lives beyond the school gate. That the teachers just want to teach and that teaching and caring cannot be separated. While a work of fiction, Gabbie Stroud also highlights the enormous pressures teachers and school staff face from those higher up the food chain, parents and the endless meetings and paperwork they endure. She also show the damage media coverage however general, can cause our teachers and inadvertently students. Thank goodness there are students like Lionel Merrick

    The Things That Matter Most may be about St Margaret’s School in Boltford and completely fictional, but it could easily be set in any school in any part of Australia and, be very real. Anyone who has worked within a school setting knows an experienced teacher like Derek, an office lady like Bev or a parent like Janet.

    This book made me nod my head in agreement, laugh, cry and will stay with me for many years to come as I too remember the Lionel’s I have come across in my career. One of the best books I have read this year, I couldn’t put it down.

    Thank you to Beauty and Lace, Allen & Unwin and Gabbie Stroud for the opportunity to read and review this compelling book.

  3. The Things That Matter Most is a book that grabbed a hold of my heart and has not let go.
    Lionel Merrick and his little sister Lacey qucikly wormed their way into my daily thoughts and my heart. I so badly wished that I could step into the book and lend a helping hand. Now that I have finished the book young Lionel is still holding on and I know he will be there in my thoughts for a long time to come.
    Gabbie Stroud has done a wonderful job of making each and every character in this book come to life.
    So far this year year this is easily my top pick and the book that I will be telling everyone they have to read.

  4. Thank you Beauty and Lace for the offer to review The Things That Matter Most by Gabbie Stroud.

    The novel is set at St. Margaret’s Primary school in a country town in New South Wales. Parents have left the city for a tree change bringing ways of thinking that don’t fit in with St. Margaret’s. The story revolves around Assistant Principal and teacher Derek, Tyson who is a new graduate teacher, year one teacher Sally-Ann and Bev the ‘office lady’. It is a new school year and teachers are doing what’s best for the students. They are not always successful as loneliness, health issues and personal issues undermine. One of the students who also has a younger sister there also has a secret but will anyone at the school notice.

    I found it a moving and reflective novel that shows the issues in the education field. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to everyone.

  5. Thank you for the copy of The Things That Matter Most by Gabbie Stroud.

    This book is set at St Margaret’s Primary School and is a good likeness of many schools. There was a cross section of teachers – a newbie from the city, a long time teacher, the perfectionist sweet teacher and an office lady who is on top of everything. What the students don’t see is everything going on in the background. The principal has her own issues she’s dealing with but manages to always be there for her staff. They are dealing with legal action, a parent with an opinion on everything and a standards review. This is on top of the personal problems in each of the educator’s lives. We’re taken in early and become very invested in them all.

    Then there are the children. As always there is a mix of those you want the best for and those a bit more difficult to handle. Lionel and his sister Lacey are the stand outs and should be cherished. The book builds up to a situation that will bring out all your emotions – sadness, frustration at the system and so many more.

    It is a story of the expectations on teachers, and their love of teaching that can be smothered by administration, time constraints and bureaucracy. We all need to sort out the things that matter most to us and this is a great book to make us all think about it. I very highly recommend for everyone as you will see parts of yourself in at least one of the characters.

  6. The things that matter most,’ by Gabbie Stroud .
    What a lovely story very indulging and once you start its hard to put it down.
    I loved all the characters each with there own personalities bought to life by the author.
    The story is about staff and students at St Margarets Catholic Primary.
    The school is due for registration and Principal Nova is trying to do her best .
    With new teacher Tyson worried whether the kids will like him .
    Then there is a student named Lionel Merrick who everyone adores but he is hiding something as well.
    Then you have the Assistant principal Derek ,Ben from the office, and Sally Ann who would love a child of her own . This story takes me back to the days I was a teacher volunteer at my kids school unless you have witnessed what goes on in a school you have no idea .
    This book is so true to heart .
    Thankyou Beauty and Lace for the chance to read this real story .

  7. Thank you Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to review Author Gabbie Stroud’s compelling novel “Things that matter most”. This book has stayed with me long after reading as it captures the moving, raw powerful challenges and perspectives of teaching in a small country school in regional NSW and the flawed education system.

    Although the story is told from various perspectives of characters such as graduate Teacher Tyson, the Assistant Principal, Bev who is the office lady; amongst others, the main protagonist student Lionel, a twelve year old boy who shall remain in my memory. Heart wrenching, moving, you will laugh and you will cry because all the details that make up the characters lives we get invested in and
    the bureaucracy of school and admin, it really does make you ponder “what matters most”. A very easy to read page turner and kudos to all the teachers that have empathy and care. I won’t forget this novel in a hurry.

  8. “The Things that Matter Most” by Gabbie Stroud is a read that I will remember for a long time.

    St Margaret’s Primary school is in a small community with very demanding staff workload, parent expectations especially those of Janet Bellevue and the everyday needs of every child attending the school.

    Tyson, who accepts a position at St Margaret’s Primary, is a first year teacher who feels overwhelmed and doubts himself as to whether he is capable of being a teacher at all. Derek, the Assistant Principal is snowed under with paperwork and near burnout and Bev the office lady is battling a serious illness and finally Sally Ann she is struggling with her own fertility journey.

    Every day is a journey with all the students but made easier with the very likeable Lionel Merrick and his little sister Lacey makes coming to teach each day seem to make it all worthwhile. These two children are so keen and eager to learn but do have their secrets – what is really happening behind the scenes in their lives.

    Things are about to hit rock bottom in the small town with tragedy and everyone needs to pull together to emotionally get through it.

    How things can so quickly change and effect so many and remind everyone what is really important in life and what things really matter most.

  9. Thank you for the opportunity to read The Things That Matter Most.

    This story is told from different perspectives which I really enjoyed. I found myself emotionally involved with all of the characters and did not want to put it down until I’d finished!

    Highly recommend!

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