Do you remember Clare Strahan from Literary Rats infamy? Well this wonderful lady has published a damned fine YA novel called Cracked and yes, it is everything it’s cracked up to be 😉 and I am nowhere near the age of the target audience #sigh
Cracked is a coming of age novel about a girl called Clover (the name says it all) traversing those treacherous roads from ages 15 to 17. Clover considers herself a bit of a ‘freak’ (and so do her friends) because of her unusual upbringing. She has been raised by her single mother (result of a one night stand with a man who then quickly disappeared) with some unconventional ideas. They live in a household with no computers (and no facebook!) and as Clover says: ‘I was a Steiner-freak who ate home-baked bread and brown rice and didn’t have a television’.
Clover is angry with the world and those around her, including herself, her mother, her absent father, her teachers, and often her friends. She’s acting out and suffering the consequences, including school suspensions, and some brushes with the law for late night graffiti sprees (in her eyes art with a message). Many of the usual and not so usual teenage dramas arise, and Clover is negotiating the turbulence with less than finesse.
Clare Strahan is a talented writer with a flair for dialogue. The characters, both primary and secondary, are well depicted, substantial and believable. I was drawn to both Clover and her mother. Their relationship changes as Clover matures (if you could call it that) – one moment they are entangled in the needs and desires of each other, and then they are pulling apart, in a manner normal for healthy growth.
The mother is delightfully flawed (as are we all) yet provides a sound foundation for the chaotic Clover. Clover is outraged at her mother’s mistakes and makes her own mistakes in response. They are playing tug-of-war but the foundation of love and sensitivity comes through loud and strong.
I also love the minor character of the art teacher Yamouni, who lifts Clover to understand some of the meaning of art. ‘Paint it out Clover’ she says when Clover is feeling particularly swamped by the problems of the world. ‘Make beauty from pain – there’s a kind of joy in that; and maybe that’s what art is for?’
It is terrific to have a YA novel set in contemporary urban Australia, rather than your usual Dawson’s Creek locale of the US of A. Not knocking Dawson’s Creek (and Clover’s vulnerability reminds me in no small way of the lead female character Joey Potter – not that I will admit to having ever watched that show #cough).
Clare Strahan has covered with great sensitivity and insight some of key issues of today facing many teenagers, including alcohol and drug use, bullying, jealousy, friends that let you down, the pitfalls of facebook and parties, vandalism, the peril of the popular kids, boyfriends, sleazy jocks who only want one thing, and the death of loved ones including pets.
There is a realistic layering of the personal with broader societal issues such as environmental vandalism, global warming and the meaning of art. Clover slips and slides through a field of messy dramas and problems – issues unfolding in a fluid and altogether unstoppable manner, as is often the way in real life.
The reader may feel like they have an overwhelming urge to help Clover out of the many predicaments she encounters. But she has to work it out for herself while hopefully staying true to the person she really is, underneath the dark clothes and the hoody.
Well done Clare on a wonderful debut novel which I would recommend to the youth of today (and even the not so youthful). You are a gifted writer with a perceptive insight into that harrowing time of life which is the teens.
Note to Clare: Anyone who can come up with the line ‘I’m hungry. I haven’t had breakfast. I blame Shakespeare’ is a winner in my books 😉