Darling Girls Summary, Characters and Themes

Darling Girls, a novel by Sally Hepworth, is a psychological thriller about three foster sisters, Jessica, Norah, and Alicia, who were raised in an idyllic Australian farm called Wild Meadows by their seemingly loving foster mother, Miss Fairchild. Their childhood, however, was far from the fairy tale everyone believes it to be, filled with unspoken secrets and dark events.

Twenty-five years later, the discovery of human remains beneath their childhood home forces them to confront the trauma of their past and the truth about their beloved foster mother. The novel explores themes of sisterhood, resilience, and the enduring impact of childhood trauma.


In the idyllic Australian countryside, three foster sisters, Jessica, Norah, and Alicia, grew up under the care of their seemingly loving foster mother, Miss Fairchild, at Wild Meadows farm. 

Their childhood, however, was far from perfect, marred by Miss Fairchild’s strict rules, unpredictable temper, and emotional manipulation. 

The sisters endured neglect, emotional abuse, and witnessed disturbing events that left them deeply scarred.

Twenty-five years later, the discovery of human remains buried beneath their childhood home forces the sisters to return to Wild Meadows and confront the haunting memories of their past. 

Now adults, each sister has built a life for herself, but the trauma of their childhood continues to affect them.

Jessica, the eldest, is a successful businesswoman with a seemingly perfect life, but she struggles with anxiety and a constant need for control. Norah, the middle sister, battles with addiction and anger issues, haunted by the most horrific events of their childhood. 

Alicia, the youngest, is a social worker who has dedicated her life to helping others, yet she remains emotionally distant and struggles with intimacy.

As the police investigation unfolds, secrets long buried begin to surface, and the sisters are forced to re-examine their childhood experiences and the truth about Miss Fairchild. 

Flashbacks to their time at Wild Meadows reveal the extent of Miss Fairchild’s cruelty and the lengths she went to maintain her image as a benevolent caregiver.

The sisters must confront their individual traumas and the shared pain of their past. 

They grapple with feelings of guilt, anger, and betrayal, as they try to piece together the fragmented memories of their childhood.

As the novel progresses, the sisters uncover a dark truth: Miss Fairchild was not who they thought she was. 

She was a manipulative and abusive woman who preyed on vulnerable children. The remains found beneath their childhood home are not the only secrets Wild Meadows holds.

With each revelation, the sisters’ bond deepens as they offer each other support and understanding. 

They learn to forgive themselves and each other for the mistakes they made in the past, and they find the strength to move forward.

In a shocking twist, the identity of the remains is revealed, and the sisters are faced with the ultimate test of their loyalty and love for each other. 

They must make a difficult decision that will change their lives forever.

In the end, the sisters find a measure of healing and closure. They have confronted their past and emerged stronger, united by their shared trauma and the unbreakable bond of sisterhood. 

They leave Wild Meadows behind, ready to embrace a future free from the shadows of their past.

Darling Girls


Miss Fairchild

The enigmatic and manipulative foster mother, Miss Fairchild, is the central figure around whom the novel’s mystery revolves. 

Outwardly, she presents as a caring and benevolent caregiver, but beneath the facade lies a cruel and emotionally abusive woman. 

She thrives on control and manipulation, using guilt and shame to keep the sisters in line. 

Miss Fairchild’s dark secrets and her true motivations for fostering children are slowly revealed throughout the novel, adding layers of complexity to her character.


The eldest of the sisters, Jessica, is portrayed as a high-achieving businesswoman with a seemingly perfect life. 

However, beneath the surface, she struggles with anxiety and a constant need for control, stemming from her traumatic childhood. Jessica is haunted by the events of the past and carries a heavy burden of guilt. 

As the novel progresses, she learns to confront her demons and find her own voice.


The middle sister, Norah, is portrayed as a troubled and rebellious woman. She battles with addiction and anger issues, a manifestation of the deep-seated trauma she experienced at Wild Meadows. 

Norah is fiercely protective of her sisters and possesses a raw vulnerability that makes her a compelling character. Throughout the novel, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery and healing.


The youngest sister, Alicia, is a caring and compassionate social worker who has dedicated her life to helping others. 

However, she struggles with emotional intimacy and maintaining healthy relationships, a consequence of her childhood trauma. 

Alicia is portrayed as intelligent and observant, often providing insights into the complexities of their family dynamics. Her journey involves learning to open up and trust others.

Other Supporting Characters

The novel also features several supporting characters who play significant roles in the unfolding mystery. 

These include Chris, Jessica’s husband, who offers unwavering support throughout the ordeal; Dan, the police detective leading the investigation, who brings a sense of objectivity and determination to the case; and various other characters from the sisters’ past and present, each contributing to the intricate web of relationships and secrets.


The Enduring Impact of Childhood Trauma

Darling Girls delves deep into the long-lasting effects of childhood trauma on the lives of the three sisters. 

The novel illustrates how the emotional and psychological abuse they suffered under Miss Fairchild’s care shaped their adult lives, influencing their relationships, careers, and personal struggles. 

Jessica’s need for control, Norah’s self-destructive tendencies, and Alicia’s emotional distance are all manifestations of the trauma they endured as children. 

The novel highlights how childhood trauma can leave deep scars that continue to fester well into adulthood, impacting one’s ability to form healthy relationships, trust others, and find happiness.

The Power of Sisterhood and Resilience

Despite the hardships they faced, the bond between the sisters remains strong. This theme emphasizes the importance of family and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity. 

The sisters find solace and strength in each other, supporting one another through their individual struggles and the shared pain of their past. Their relationship serves as a testament to the enduring power of love, loyalty, and the unbreakable connection between siblings. 

The novel underscores the importance of having a support system, especially when dealing with trauma, and how the love and understanding of family can aid in the healing process.

The Deception of Appearances

Darling Girls emphasizes the deceptive nature of appearances, particularly concerning Miss Fairchild. 

The seemingly benevolent and caring foster mother is revealed to be a cruel and manipulative figure, highlighting the discrepancy between outward appearances and the hidden darkness lurking beneath. 

The idyllic setting of Wild Meadows, the picture-perfect farmhouse, serves as a facade for the sinister events that transpired within its walls. 

This theme serves as a reminder not to judge a book by its cover and to question the narratives presented to us. It encourages readers to look beyond superficial appearances and delve deeper into the complexities of human nature.

The Importance of Truth and Justice

The novel also explores the significance of uncovering the truth and seeking justice for past wrongs. 

The discovery of the human remains triggers an investigation that uncovers the dark secrets of Wild Meadows and exposes Miss Fairchild’s true nature. 

This process of revelation brings a sense of catharsis for the sisters, as they finally acknowledge the trauma they endured and seek justice for the harm inflicted upon them. 

The theme emphasizes the importance of confronting the past, no matter how painful, in order to heal and move forward. 

It also highlights the significance of holding perpetrators accountable for their actions and the role of justice in bringing closure to victims of abuse.