This post contains a review, an interview, a guest post, and a bookish manicure.
Cracked by Clare Strahan
Published May 28, 2014 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars
From the blurb: At fifteen, Clover is finding the going tougher than she expected. Her life is close to being derailed on the rocky terrain of family, friendship, first love, acts of defiance and a planet on the brink of environmental disaster.
So when Keek breaks his promise, and school sucks, and her mother’s impossible, and her dad is in the wind, and her dog’s getting old, and the cool-girls are awful, and the footy boys are bullies…and then she’s arrested for vandalism – what else can she be but cracked?Can Clover pull herself together or will she spiral further out of control?
Cracked by Clare Strahan is the sort of book I knew I will love from the very first sentence, it has that something that only Aussie YA contemporary novels have.
Clover Jones is fifteen and angry – I love her. At age eleven she learnt about nuclear bombs in school and this, along with everything else wrong with the world, caused a crack inside her. Her mother is alternative and doesn’t believe in tv, or facebook, or capitalism, and Clover is often embarrassed by her. She’s never known her father, her former best friend moved away only to return years later but they’re no longer friends.
Clover has known Philip McKenzie, aka Keek, since primary school, and when they both get sent to the principal’s office, they strike up a new friendship. Keek rides his BMX and Clover gets into graffiti as she’s already a talented artist. I was completely absorbed by their friendship, and loved that they both got support out of the relationship.
The parents are very much present in this story which makes a change from a lot of YA novels. They definitely didn't know everything their kids were up to, which to me is realistic, but they were involved in their lives. The family dynamics explored were complex and I particularly loved the focus on the mother-daughter relationship between Clover and Penny.
Often in fiction real-life consequences are ignored or glossed over but that’s not the case here, both Clover and Keek have to deal with the repercussions of their actions - this didn’t feel preachy or like a warning to teens, just realistic and honest.
Cracked is a wonderful addition to Australian YA fiction, highlighting the bonds between family and friends, and focusing on a teen who cares very much about the people and world around her.
Thank you to the lovely people at Allen & Unwin for my review copy.
Did you set out to write YA fiction? If so, what made you want to write for young adults?
Hmm. I did set out to write YA fiction, partly to see if I could do it, and partly because the reading I did as a teenager and in my early twenties sparked my imagination and woke up my thinking, so I’m very fond of books that appeal to that age-group – although, back in the old days, novels weren’t considered ‘young adult’ – there were children’s books and novels: young adults sought out the books that spoke to them. I love that Young Adult fiction has a liveliness about it, community, and smart conversation.
Is Cracked set in a real location or is it fictional?
Fernwood is a fictional eastern suburb and I hope anyone who has lived in an outer suburb, or one that nestles up against rural areas, can recognise the reality of the place.
Clover obviously loves her dog - did you have a favourite pet as a child/teen?
Ah, dear Lucille the dog – one of my favourite characters, for sure. I grew up with a family dog called Sheba – a cocker spaniel who lived to be 15, and a grey cat called Smokey. Our pets were beloved members of the family and when you grow up with that, a family doesn’t seem complete without one. I don’t remember life without animal companions. When I was eighteen, I had a beautiful dog of my own – my ‘first child’ – called Jess. Then Winnie, Tash, and now Percy and Lily (who live with me and the cats, Persia, Bernard and Vincent).
Have you read any good Aussie YA fiction lately?
I’m just about to review The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew by Eli Glasman which is full of fascinating facts about honouring that orthodox religion in the modern world. I’ve not long ago read Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon, Alison Croggon’s Black Spring and Lili Wilkinson’s Pink – I tend to get on to things after they’ve been a ‘thing’, but that doesn’t make them any less wonderful when I do catch up. In my current ‘to read’ pile are Fiona Wood’s Wildlife, Melissa Keil’s, Life in Outer Space and Simone Howell’s Girl Defective. And I’m really wanting to read The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss and Justine Larbalestier’s Razorhurst. My most favourite read of the last few months is Margo Lanagan’s Seahearts.
Are you working on another book or any new projects you can tell us about?
I’m writing another YA with the working title of The Property. It’s still such a fledgling, it doesn’t feel right to say too much because it’s fluid and evolving, but basically it’s again the story of 15 year old girl, very different to Clover but with some of the same challenges to face: an environment at risk, and figuring out who and how to love. At the moment I’m interested in ideas around privilege, and consent, and the dynamics of sibling relationships, and my pet favourite: authority vs authoritarianism.
Although Cracked is my debut novel, I’ve written four complete manuscripts and for each one, it’s been a process of having pieces of a jigsaw revealed – scenes, characters, images, ideas – and then making sense of them. My first vision for Cracked was of Clover and Keek having been arrested for a radical (and ultimately impossible) act of graffiti-protest – but how did they get to that point? Then one of my best friends recited the chorus of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem to me (as you do) and the line ‘I cracked when I was eleven, but it didn't show’, popped into my mind. I wrote it down because I thought it might be a good first line for a novel, and it’s really at the heart of Clover. In the end, Cracked is more relationship-driven than action-driven than I first imagined, but I’m not sorry because, well, Keek, Lucille, Penny, Alison … Rob, Dave, the teachers and the Herbs et al – I’m very glad they shared themselves with me.
The books I loved as a teen are woven into the fabric of me, so it feels like an honour to be read by Young Adults, even though I hope the book works for Old Adults too. When I think of my experience of being a teen (it was long ago, but still resonates with me) and of making theatre with teens in a school setting (generally Shakespeare), I’m always struck by the challenge they pose, especially the rebellious ones: it’s a bit ‘what are you even?’ but more poignantly ‘why are you?’. I think it’s a good question to be asked and writing (and play-making) has always been my way of trying to answer it.
I love the cover of Cracked and knew I had to do nails to match!
I started with 1 thin coat of Zoya Dove, a pale grey. Over the top I lightly sponged on China Glaze White Out. Then I used a pointy dotting tool to add some misshapen spots using Nubar Barricade.
For Lucille I used acrylic paint and a fine brush to paint her silhouette.
I love this concrete nails look. I added a matte top coat once I’d finished and it really looks like stone - definitely something I'll be doing again.