Book review: Six Minutes by Petronelle McGovern
Reviewed by Ilona Hanne.

I only planned to read for six minutes while my dinner cooked.

Only, a lot can happen in six minutes – in my case, you can get hooked on a book resulting in you burning your dinner and going hungry for the next few hours while you read the whole thing.

In Lexie Parker's case, your child can go missing.

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Lexie is one of the main characters in McGovern's thrilling page turner, and just what happened in that six minutes is the question that will keep you glued to this book until you finish it.

For the six minutes Lexie left her daughter Bella in the care of the other playgroup mums, something happened. And just as Lexie, her husband, the police, the other mums and people on social media try to work that out in this novel, so the reader finds themselves trying to solve the mystery too.

Every character is well written – the five main mums who use the playgroup are all people you could know, as are the husbands, the police officers, the teachers …

They all have their secrets too, and McGovern takes these secrets and uses them to keep her readers guessing – who is hiding little secrets and who is hiding the big one – who knows where Bella is? Does anyone? Is she really missing, or worse?

McGovern takes every parent's fear – a missing child, and uses it to explore a range of themes – the pressure to keep up appearances, trial by media, relationships, debt, step-parenting, drugs … the list goes on. It's not overwhelming however, just incredibly real.

It's that gritty reality that makes McGovern's book just so terrifying. Her characters are people you know, your neighbours, your friends, even yourself.

Their secrets are your secrets, and that is where this novel really gets under your skin.

By using such likeable, well developed characters, McGovern is able to dip beneath the surface of playgroup mum life, and delve beneath the fingerpainting to draw out these issues, to throw light on them and to make her reader consider – do you ever really know what someone else's life is like?

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By moving between character viewpoints in the book, McGovern is able to show just how little we can know about each other, and how perceptions can vary greatly. One mum describes Lexie as an over anxious mother who never leaves her child, another talks about her "leaving Bella all the time".

And just how did Bella end up with her arm in a cast?

This book is the one you will tell your friends to read, it is the book you want to read again, slower, to enjoy the journey more and to use your knowledge of the ending to look back and find the clues in the narrative.

It is a book about six minutes that changed a family and a town forever, but it is also a book about the hundreds and thousands of minutes that lead up to any split second decision or incident.

It is McGovern's first novel, but I hope it isn't her last. She is an author to watch out for - but maybe order takeout when you read her book!


This regular column showcases some of the books available to borrow from the Stratford or South Taranaki book catalogues. The books are chosen by our editorial team.

As well as borrowing books from the Stratford Library, Stratford library card holders can also borrow books from the South Taranaki book catalogue at no extra cost.

This shared service is popular, with over 300 books moving between the libraries each week. Library users can reserve books online regardless of which library they belong to and can also return issued books to the Stratford Library or any of the seven South Taranaki libraries.

Reserving items is free. Library members are notified by email or a phone call when reserved items are ready to collect.

All of the books reviewed in this column are available to borrow through the library system.