Writing Clementine by Kate Gordon

Thursday, July 17, 2014

You said we could write anything we wanted. The first thing that came into our minds. Blue fish, red fish, green fish...

Clementine Darcy is floundering. She wants to be the kind of fish who swims to the swish of her own fins - upstream, not simply carried along by the current.

But she is finding the swirling waters of school and home difficult to navigate: her friendship group is splintering, her brother Fergus won't leave his room, her sister's life is not as perfect as Clem thought...and then there's the New Boy, who is dapper and intriguing, but hiding secrets of his own. Clem is desperate for everyone - including herself - to be happy, but she discovers that her idea of helping doesn't always work as well as she imagined.

Can Clem be the girl she wants to be? Will she learn to accept that there are things she can fix and things she cannot? Will she find a way to know the difference?

Writing Clementine is such a beautifully endearing story. I loved the use of Tasmania as a setting, as I have in Kate Gordon's other novels. Clementine has many of the aspects I love about contemporary Australian YA, including a very genuine voice and the multi-faceted issues of growing up being handled deftly, including Clementine dealing with her brother's mental illness, relationships with her long-time friends shifting, and romantic interests as well as super unpleasant advances. Clementine's friends Cleo and Chelsea-Grace I found to be unpleasantly realistic (I dug my fingernails into my palms a little bit, thinking I know these girls) but they, too, were shown to have depth - growing up and figuring it out, same as Clementine (it is so much easier to resort to 'the protagonist is righteous! these girls are just mean, two-dimensional bimbos!' None of that cliche business here).

I tend towards being an impatient reader these days, wishing for every author to be more concise (so many books to read! So little time!), and Clementine was short but still powerful. I loved that Clementine was a bigger girl without it being a thing - she is happy within herself. I loved that the truly creepy and gross Sam from Grade 10 wasn't allowed to get away with his awful behaviour. I loved the steampunk society, and that the love interest was so not traditional YA - he's odd and old-fashioned and adorable. Clementine is fourteen and tends towards naivete, and things are wrapped up very neatly and positively - if you like your endings happy with your protagonist's wishes being fulfilled, this is the book for you (is that a spoiler? I think you can tell it's an ultimately happy book from that pretty cover). It is realistic but mostly steers away from darkness (her brother's mental illness, for instance, is not dealt with in depth - it's an outsider's view). An easy read, in the form of a letter, with a very charming narrative voice.

Heart-warming and humorous, with a very sweet romance at the centre, Writing Clementine is a lovely read and one that I think preteens and younger teenage girls will love.

Writing Clementine on the publisher's website
Kate Gordon's website
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