Book Review: Megan Rogers gets to the heart of a family secret in her much-lauded debut

The Heart is a Star

In The Heart is a Star, debut novelist Megan Rogers explores one woman’s struggles to balance the demands of her career and family against her own needs as a person. As the book opens, we meet Layla Byrnes, an anaesthetist who is just ending a period of enforced leave when she receives a disturbing phone call from her mother back in Tasmania. It is just before Christmas. Though Layla already has plans to travel back to her home town for the holiday, something about the way her mother is speaking makes her return feel more urgent.

Layla’s relationship with her mother has always been strained, and a part of Layla seems to hold Nora responsible for the disintegration of their family and her father’s death decades before. But, Nora seems to be contemplating ending her life, and tells Layla that she has left the answers she seeks about what happened back then in a locked drawer. Layla is faced with a difficult choice: does she wait the extra few days and assume Nora is being dramatic as usual, or does she risk her job and her marriage (already on the rocks) and go now?

As we follow Layla back to the fictional town of Port Jericho, Tasmania, Layla’s relationship with her mother paints a portrait of the older woman in a deliberately skewed light. The occasion that Nora dragged them all to a poetry showcase only to be told they were sitting in the wrong seats is viewed by the young Layla as embarrassing and an example of her mother’s instability. But, reading between the lines we see a woman whose dreams of a creative life have been thwarted. When Layla is forced to give away her prized new doll to a friend because her mother failed to bring home the dress they’d put aside at a shop, Layla sees her mother as selfish. But, the reader gets the impression that Layla’s sainted father is perhaps holding the purse strings a little too tight. We see simultaneously how Nora has arrived at the present day in her emotionally broken and isolated state and also how her attempts to keep the darkness in her marriage from her youngest daughter has meant that Layla views her mother – and not her father – as the villain.

Rogers’ portrayal of Nora is sympathetic and gentle, and I enjoyed this rumination on the choices women of earlier generations had to make, and the ways they may not be appreciated by modern career women like Layla. This central relationship creates a strong backbone in a novel which is otherwise not completely solid. There are several revelations at the periphery of this main point of conflict which are either not well signposted, or are left unresolved, such as the relationship between Layla’s family and their neighbours, and Layla’s former lover revealing their affair in an extremely public way while she is out of town.

Perhaps most damaging to the book is that when Layla uncovers the truth about her father, it felt simultaneously both too obvious and completely out of left field. Obvious because it is the kind of twist that this type of book has come to be known for. Out of left field because in her memories, Layla is so completely oblivious to the situation that the flashback scenes hold no clues at all. The result is a hopeful ending to a sad novel, which should have been devastating, but which seems to pull the final punch.

There is also a fairly disturbing sex scene in a pear orchard. But I’ll leave that for readers to discover on their own.

All this being said, The Heart is a Star is an extremely bingeable read, and I think it will appeal to readers of Holly Ringland very much.  There’s a lot to unpack in these pages. Maybe pick this one up for your next book club meeting.

The Heart is a Star


The Heart is a Star by Megan Rogers is available now from Harper Collins. Grab your copy from Booktopia HERE.

Emily Paull

Emily Paull is a former bookseller, and now works as a librarian. Her debut book, Well-Behaved Women, was released by Margaret River Press in 2019.