Book Review: What 'Strange Sally Diamond' Tells Us About Trauma (That No One Else Does)

Book Review: What 'Strange Sally Diamond' Tells Us About Trauma (That No One Else Does)

Strange Sally Diamond’ is my first Liz Nugent novel ever. It was a good read - the book flowed effortlessly and was easy to come back to; the language was simple enough for a quick read; and the plot? It kept you hooked right until the very last page. Initially, it reads like a crime thriller, but it surprises you with unexpected twists that keep you on your toes.


In all, it was a pretty engaging book.


What I do wish however was that the book had come with a trigger warning. Since I went in on a whim, it took me a bit of time to process all the heavy stuff (and there was a lot) as the plot unfolded. Keep in mind that the book has themes of pedophilia, rape, abuse, torture, abduction, death, and violence. It’s one giant rollercoaster of emotions.


The story is about a 40-year-old woman who is thrown into the deep end of having to navigate life after the death of her father. While dealing with the aftermath of her father’s death, the narrative also peels back layers about her family (biological and adopted), her past, and her present.


A couple of concepts the book highlights pretty well are intergenerational trauma, grief - with respect to circumstances - and therapy. The characters - as well as their evolution in the book - take us on a ride-along journey where we gradually uncover possibilities for why things are the way they are and how they got to that point.


The book is written from the perspective of two parallel lenses that converge at the end of the book. The first one is the titular protagonist while the other one is - spoilers ahead - her previously-unheard-of brother. Even though they only have one interaction before they meet each other in the end, it’s remarkable how their lives and personalities oddly mimic each other’s - especially their attachments to their respective fathers (Sally to her adoptive father and Peter to his biological father). They both seem to see how their fathers affected them and were entirely different people from who they knew them to be.  In fact, the more they both learn about their fathers, the more they cling to the good parts and negate the duality of their fathers’ existence. We can see how the trauma cycle repeats itself in different ways through both Sally and Peter. And even though they’ve both lived very separate lives, the trauma of their biological parents still plays out through them. 


The emphasis on how tough experiences shape a person's feelings and actions is a notable aspect. Sally's challenging childhood offers a lens into how the past molds our present and future. The narrative unfolds the influence of difficult times on our thoughts, actions, and coping mechanisms. Sally's journey highlights her strength and resilience as she confronts the darker aspects of her past, transforming for the better. It's a reflective exploration of how trauma, grief, and resilience intertwine in our lives.


This is prevalent in the characters' lives and their unfolding. The book starts with the death of Sally's adoptive father, which is ironically not the biggest loss in the book. We see loss interspersed in many forms - the loss of freedom, loss of childhoods, the loss of autonomy, the loss of self, and most importantly, the loss of support - leading to the isolated lives the main characters end up leading. This book definitely doubled up the losses and the grieving that the main character had to endure. It is a sad book, and it leaves you with a loss of hope at the end - (not so) fun fact: mine was definitely crushed a bit.

The book isn’t all dark. Sally's humor is an unexpected delight, given her tough childhood. Missing out on typical growing-up experiences makes her inner thoughts unfiltered and funny. She says things that might make others think twice, but she remains unfettered. These funny parts give us a break from the more intense parts of the story.


Over and over again,  the book sheds light on how past challenging experiences linger like a heavy backpack of memories. Sally's story emphasizes how these memories influence present actions and feelings. Just as with grief, the book hints at the possibility of gradually unpacking this emotional baggage, learning to coexist with the past without letting it dominate the present. It's a gentle reminder that healing from trauma requires time and patience.


The book does a fantastic job of highlighting the aspects of therapy. As you go through the book, it almost feels like you’re going through the ups and downs of therapy as a whole - the uncovering and emotions of who we are, how they influence us, our new learnings, and how empowered we feel. But most importantly, the amount of acceptance of who you are regardless of your circumstances


It did not have a triumph-overcoming-a-struggle storyline, but more of a ‘you should try your best’, and ‘acceptance comes from understanding who you are independent of hardship and trying to create a life from there’ approach to storytelling. And even after all that hard work and self-building, we might still end up landing at what feels like square one all over again. Here, we can choose to try again or fall back into familiar patterns. The therapist in the book is well portrayed and the dynamics and gentleness she brings to Sally are great to read. Her authenticity with Sally as well as support is a drastic difference from the one we see Sally get from her father (who also happens to be a mental health practitioner). 


The book is a great read, however, I recommend reading it with caution based on the themes it covers. My takeaway would be that self and self-worth are derived from within. There is some amount of baggage that we might have to carry within us throughout life, but hey, the more you acknowledge yourself, your self-worth, and your strength - the lighter the baggage feels. 

Back to blog

Meet the Authors

Malvika Lobo


Malvika, a seasoned therapist with over 7 years of experience, specializes in Animal Assisted Therapy and Arts Based Therapy. She is the smother of animals, a chai enthusiasts and has a hot take on all things.

Book A Session

Anagha Anand


Power, impact and efficiency drives Anagha. Her work in the field of mental health spans from her early college days working with individuals who have dealt and are dealing with trauma.

Book A Session