Ruth woke from a dream of Tam Finn, so vivid that for a moment its landscape – the narrow stretch of coarse sand beside the creek, the ripple of brown water over the pebbles, the broad shiny leaves of the bushes on the far bank – seemed more real than the familiar furniture of her room. She sat up, throwing the covers back, breathing hard, while the brown water and the shiny bushes flickered and faded, sucked into a mist which thinned the and then vanished, leaving nothing behind except a suspicion that ordinary things were not as solid as they appeared.
Ruth lives with her grandmother and distant father in a remote country town. She’s finishing secondary school and destined to leave everything and everyone she knows to go to university in Sydney. It’s a path that began when her mother was killed in a car accident and she, a baby, was tossed from the car to land safely nearby. But it has echoes further back, when her grandmother was an orphan and made friends with the local priest. Although she knows leaving is inevitable, Ruth has doubts. Her best friend Fee has chosen another path entirely. How will her father and grandmother get on without her? Does her grandmother want this for her, more than she does for herself? And where does Tam Finn, son of the local largeholder, and subject of much of the town’s fascination and gossip, fit in?
Three Summers follows Ruth across her lifetime, stitching forwards and backwards through her history and beyond to make sense of her story. Primarily set in outback Australia, Ruth is stepping from the known and loved (despite limitations) world into an unknown future. She is supported by her grandmother and her grandmother’s certainty, and the less overt love of her grieving father. Other characters pull her this way and that, as she traverses familiar landscape and looks forward as well as back. There are three sections, the first as she waits for her school marks and the arrival (or not) of the letter that will change her life forever. The second two sessions dip like spring winds into her life, skimming across decisions she makes and fails to make. Throughout, her love of family, her friendship with Fee and her memories of an unrealised first love move her closer and closer to the unexpected end. ‘Three Summers’ is a lyrical and enjoyable read for mid- to upper-secondary readers.
Three Summers, Judith Clarke
Allen & Unwin 2012
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author