Friday, August 13, 2021

Joint Review: The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison by Meredith Jaffe

Some days I feel a bit sorry for Bree from All the Books I Can Read. She just has to mention that she is reading the same book as me or that I have read recently and enjoyed,  and next thing you know we are doing a joint review together. It's been a year or so since we did the last one, so it is about time I guess!!

This time, Bree has the first half of the discussion and I have the second half here. So, go on, go and read the first half and then come back here for the second half. I'll wait.....

Right, so, you're back! Yay!!

My thoughts are in purple and Bree's are in black.


I think Derek feared rejection and getting outside his comfort zone. He writes faithfully to his daughter regularly, has done for five years, but has never heard back. She’s never been to visit him. Derek’s daughter was quite young when he went to jail, about 16 and I think his downfall affected her life considerably. Derek struggles to make the decision to make her the dress because I think that if his daughter rejects it, rejects him, then he has to confront the idea full on that their relationship is over.

The idea about prisons and their purpose is a really interesting one. I know a lot of people get up in arms when you talk about things prisoners are allowed access to, such as television, etc. But the reasons people are there are wide and varied and if you don’t give them the chance to educate themselves or further that education, to build skills and develop healthy habits, what chance do they have of getting employment or not sliding back into previous habits when released? Doc is incredibly creepy but when the prison library is threatened, he does have a point. Libraries provide education and recreational opportunities and surely bored prisoners are more dangerous than engaged and occupied prisoners!

I really enjoyed the prison sewing group - there was something really sweet about imagining these men sewing cushions and quilts and learning new and more intricate sewing skills and imagining the idea of making this wedding dress. I thought Joey was a standout character and I also quite enjoyed Sean and I love the idea that this is based on a thing that actually exists. I have to admit, I did quite a bit of googling after I finished this and looked at the Fine Cell Work website - there’s a lot of stuff for sale! As someone who cannot sew to save her life, I admired the work done. They even offer the chance to commission something bespoke, which I thought was fantastic.

Did you find it easy to “picture” the dress the men made?

M: I had read somewhere that the book cover was a good representation of the dress so I kept that in mind as I was reading. And that in itself was enough to blow me away as I am not a sewer either. I mean, I learnt when I was young, but misplaced my sewing machine about 20 years ago and haven’t really missed it since!

Joey was definitely a standout character for me. His spirit and joy balanced against his harrowing story was a pleasure to read. I like to think that I can imagine exactly where Joey is in his life right now. I think that one of the real skills that the author exhibited is telling us enough about each prisoner's story without losing track of the fact that these men are in prison for a reason.

We’ve talked a lot about the prisoners but there were other layers to the story. We got insights into Debbie’s life and how her parents dysfunctional relationship as well as small town politics and more!

It really is a complete, well rounded story.

B: Yes, I agree that the author was able to convincingly portray these men as complex and although they all came together to accomplish this wonderful thing, they were all still in prison for a variety of reasons ranging from white collar crime to arson to straight up multiple murders. But even a prisoner who would never be released had a role to play in educating others and making sure they left prison more literate than when they arrived.

I really did love everything about this book. The whole story was just so engaging and had me hooked from the very start. I loved the way it played out and like you, enjoyed the glimpses we got into the lives of other characters, including the prison guard and also the volunteer who teaches the sewing (I can’t believe I forgot to mention them before now!).

Highly recommend this one. It’s a 5 star read for me. How about you?

M:I feel like there’s actually quite a few things we haven’t touched on yet! Goes back to my point at the beginning about gushing! It’s a 5/5 from me too!

About the book:

Can a wedding dress save a bunch of hardened crims? The Full Monty meets Orange is the New Black in a poignantly comic story about a men's prison sewing circle.

Derek's daughter Debbie is getting married. He's desperate to be there, but he's banged up in Yarrandarrah Correctional Centre for embezzling funds from the golf club, and, thanks to his ex-wife, Lorraine, he hasn't spoken to Debbie in years. He wants to make a grand gesture - to show her how much he loves her. But what?

Inspiration strikes while he's embroidering a cushion at his weekly prison sewing circle - he'll make her a wedding dress. His fellow stitchers rally around and soon this motley gang of crims is immersed in a joyous whirl of silks, satins and covered buttons.

But as time runs out and tensions rise both inside and outside the prison, the wedding dress project takes on greater significance. With lives at stake, Derek feels his chance to reconcile with Debbie is slipping through his fingers ...

A funny, dark and moving novel about finding humanity, friendship and redemption in unexpected places.

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