Book Review: The Teacher’s Secret

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Author: Suzanne Leal
ISBN: 978-1-76029-055-9
RRP: $32.99

The Teacher’s Secret is the second novel by Suzanne Leal, a lawyer experienced in child protection, criminal law and refugee law; experiences she has put to good use in this novel.

There is a large dose of suspense within these pages but it’s by no means a thriller. Leal has crafted an intense and thought-provoking drama that brings together a wide circle of characters whose connections aren’t made clear until late in the tale.

The Teacher’s Secret takes place over an entire school year and is broken down into 4 terms. The story is told by a diverse cast of characters in alternating chapters.

Giving the leads their own voice adds a depth to their characters and allows us to get to know them a little better than may have otherwise been the case, though not always because we still don’t really get to know one of the integral characters well enough to understand how her mind works or what has lead her to the position and mind-set she’s in now.

Terry is a primary school teacher in his late 50’s. He’s married but circumstances have left him unfortunately childless. He is also a very caring and nurturing man, he takes a great personal interest in all of his students and remembers what seems to be all of his students from the almost two decades he has spent at Brindle Public school. Terry is a very hands on teacher, and though I sensed there were only good intentions behind all of his actions there were times that I cringed and thought, oh that’s not going to look good.

Terry is also the deputy principal of the school, he could have had the job of Acting Principal while the Principal took a year off but he is too invested in working in a classroom, and the admin side of it isn’t his forte.

Laurie comes in as Acting Principal. She’s come from Head Office so has a strong administration background and is very much a rules and regulations girl, she’s very young, strict and disciplined and she gets off on the wrong foot right from the beginning. Walking in on the first day she has made some major changes, without involving any of the staff, and it doesn’t go down well.

Laurie was heavily involved with child protection before coming to Brindle and she definitely keeps that focus. She enters into a situation where she doesn’t know anyone, staff or students, and she doesn’t know any of the histories. Sometimes this can be a good thing, and a fresh perspective on a situation but sometimes it is lacking some much needed context to a situation.

Terry and Laurie are at loggerheads from the very first morning, and Terry certainly doesn’t help his situation. It seems that the two are polar opposites and the clash is constant, Laurie seems to put him on the defensive right from the start of every conversation and things escalate rapidly.

Much of the story hinges on Terry and Laurie, and the way their interaction plays out; which makes me think that Laurie should have been explored in more depth so we could understand her motivations better, though the not knowing makes her more intriguing.

The Teacher's Secret

Brindle is a small town, and a small community, many of the residents have been there forever and will probably stay there forever. They are a coastal town with a glorious view and only a short trip to bigger towns.

Nina is a learning and support teacher at Stenton Public, she works one on one with the kids that need a little extra help. She is struggling with changes in her marriage and though her story was engaging and you can’t help but feel for her it took a while to work out how she fits into this story.

Rebecca and her son are overseas waiting for the school year to finish so they can join her husband Emmanuel in Brindle for a holiday, this was another intriguing piece of the puzzle that was not placed until late in the game.

Sid is an older gentleman who has been the handyman at Brindle Public for as long as he can remember. He swims every morning in the rock pool on his way to work. He’s a genuinely good guy.

Joan is a single older lady who has lived her live in Brindle, she had older parents and now they’re gone she’s a little lonely but she’s also painfully shy and has trouble speaking to people.

Mel is one of the school mums, she was also a student of Brindle Public, and she will probably live in Brindle for life. She had big dreams once but a teen pregnancy changed her plans and now she’s happily married to her high school sweetheart with two kids, a business she’s happy with and a budding photography hobby.

The school year plays out through the eyes of this very diverse group of characters, we watch the children learn and struggle their way through their last year of primary school. The year that is meant to prepare them for high school is not the stable and smooth running year they were promised and the upheaval is certainly apparent in the students, but we get to watch as they overcome it to finish off the year.

Brindle Public is only a relatively small school but we don’t really have anything to do with any of the other classes so we don’t meet any of the other students and the teachers only in passing.

The shock retirement of Terry mid-year is a huge blow to the students in his year 6 class, and the rest of the teaching staff. No-one is told what has happened or why he’s left, only the replacement teacher who comes in to take his class and she has never met him so has no context for any of this information.

The story pieces together beautifully, the students are delightful, the characters for the most part are well fleshed and the actual story is very interesting. I do have one issue and it’s a pretty major one for me, though I won’t articulate it because it would be quite spoilerific, and I see how it needs to be this way for the purpose of the story but I’m not sure it could actually be that way.

The Teacher’s Secret is captivating, poignant and a testament to the huge hearts of teachers. This is a story that I loved and would recommend to anyone.

The Teacher’s Secret is book #37 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2016.

Suzanne Leal can be found on Facebook, Twitter and her Website.

The Teacher’s Secret is available now through Allen & Unwin and from Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold.

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