Frankie believed in Heaven quite literally, as if it was another lovely world out past the stars. And when he spoke the word “love”, it seemed to spring free and fly into the air like a beautiful balloon you wanted to run after. But I couldn’t tell my parents about Frankie. I couldn’t tell them how he was becoming the best thing in my world. I couldn’t tell anyone, I hardly admitted it myself.
When teenage Tom decides to enter the seminary his intentions are clear: he wants something more than ordinary happiness, and feels, in spite of his parents’ uncertainty, that he is being called to become a priest. At St Finbar’s life is more difficult than Tom imagined, filled with rules and restrictions. Yet it is here that he meets Frankie, and learns that happiness and love are inextricably linkd.
My Lovely Frankie is a tale of seminary life, love and self-discovery set in 1950s Australia. From the moment he meets Frankie, Tom feels a connection he struggles to comprehend, particularly in light of his sheltered existence. What is it he feels for Frankie?
Told in the first person voice of a modern day, much older, Tom as he looks back on the events of his teen years, the story gradually unfolds, with the narrative style giving glimpses of the life he has lived in the intervening years, as well as keeping the reader guessing as to the events of the year in question.
Beautifully written, this is a story which will haunt long after the last page.
My Lovely Frankie, by Judith Clarke
Allen & Unwin, 2017
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.
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
Oh, how different from home all this was! How different from thirty-three Willow Street! You could even smell the difference: a mixture of sun and dust, wild honey and the smoky tang from the old kerosene fridge on the back verandah. And you could smell feelings, too – Clementine was sure of it: you could smell anger and hatred and disappointment and jagged little fears. The anger smelled like iron and the disappointment smelled like mud.
When Clementine meets her cousin Fan, she thinks Fan is strong and beautiful. Fan doesn’t care what other people think, and she is sure her life will be different from her mother’s. She calls Clementine her sister. But they live far apart and as the girls grow towards adulthood their lives become increasingly different. Whilst Clementine finishes school and heads for university, Fan leaves school as soon as she can and looks for love, in a search that seems destined for failure. Can their bond, and Fan’s determination to be different, be enough to make that difference in Fan’s life?
The Winds of Heaven is a beautiful, moving novel set primarily in 1950s Australia. The lives of the girls are in many ways contrasted – one from a stable, city family, the other from a broken, rural, home – and, as they grow, the contrast become more marked as Clementine enters the world of university, working towards the future her parents have long dreamt of her having, whilst Fan struggles with an unhappy teen marriage and motherhood, unable to escape a life which echoes her mother’s. Yet the two share a special bond, and also a need to find their true identity.
This is a moving story, with Fan’s life moving in a seemingly inevitable chain of events foreshadowed by the older Clementine looking back on events of her childhood. Clarke is an insightful writer, with the characters’ complex lives and personalities making them come alive to the reader.
The Winds of Heaven, by Judith Clarke
Allen & Unwin, 2009
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Lily knew that it wasn’t the absence of a father, or even the smallness of their family (only the three of them – five if you counted Nan and Pop), which marked them out. No, thought Lily irritably, it was the sheer peculiarity of the people in it that made her family not quite right.
Lily is the sensible one in her family. She cleans the house and cooks the emails, and always makes sensible decisions. But then she starts to notice Daniel Steadman and suddenly she wonders if she’s as sensible as she thought.
In the meantime, Lily’s nan decides it’s time for a party. Lily finds herself determined to make this party a perfect day for her less than perfect family. But it’s going to take some effort.
One Whole and Perfect Day is a warm story of family relationships, falling in love and the concept of perfection. Lily is a likeable protagonist with a wryly humorous take on life and a family who are as endearing as they are odd.
Aimed at teens, there’s a lot to be enjoyed by adult readers as well.
One Whole and Perfect Day, by Judith Clarke
Allen & Unwin, 2006
Jess was happy living at Avalon, their old home by the bay, but now they’ve moved and something is wrong with their new house. Since they’ve moved, her sister Vida is wild and furious and believes in strange magic. Her brother Clem hasn’t even got around to unpacking and their mum doesn’t get out of bed – instead lying sick and silent in her bedroom upstairs.
Soon Jess realises something even more disconcerting. Someone is following her – running after her don the street, waiting out in the garden in night. But whoever this someone is, they seem to be invisible – Jess hears them more than sees them, catching only glimpses of a blue hem and a pair of legs.
But who can Jess turn to for help? Her father is busy working and caring for her mother, Clem doesn’t seem to be around and she daren’t tell Vida. Vida is already worried enough about all sorts of things, dragging Jess to seances and begging her to part in elaborate rituals to solve her problems. Of course her mother can’t help, lying cocooned in her bed. Jess may have to solve this mystery herself.
Starry Nights, by Judith Clarke, is a haunting mystery of a family caught in a twilight zone. Teenage readers will find themselves unable to put the book down and will find the ending satisfying. Judith Clarke has a long history of producing quality novels for young adult readers, including Friend of My Heart, Night Train and Wolf on the Fold, Winner of the 2001 Children’s Book of the Year for Older Readers.
Starry Nights, by Judith Clarke
Allen & Unwin, 2001.
These last few months, Vida had started believing in all kinds of strange things she’d have laughed about when they lived back at Avalon. She’d tried every spell she could find in the dusty old books she brought home from op shops and garage sales; none of them ever worked and it was awful watching her try. Last Friday night when the moon was full Vida had run out into the garden, right down to the place where the big fir tree grew. From the window Jess had watched her sister walking around it backwards …