Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Interview and Review: Cracked by Clare Strahan

I am proud to have on the blog today debut Aussie author Clare Strahan! I was lucky enough to score an interview with her so thanks Allen & Unwin for organising this, and Clare for answering my questions (: Cracked was released June 1st and is now available in-stores and online!

Firstly, thanks to Allen & Unwin for this review copy and for organising the interview <3


Release Date: June 1st 2014
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Aussie contemporary

Synopsis:
"A wonderful debut novel that captures the essence of real, messy teenage lives: of action and consequence, of poor choices and fragile friendships, of standing up for what is right, and the attempt to make sense of a world when everything feels like it's falling apart.

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 to her, and school sucks, and her mother is impossible, and her beloved old dog is dying, and her dad is in the wind, and the girls at school are awful and the footy-boys are bullies and she's arrested for vandalism - well, what else can she be but a little bit broken? Can Clover pull herself together - or will she spiral further out of control?

When life feels like it's fracturing, how do you find a way to feel whole?"

Interview

Hi Clare, it's so great to have you on the blog today!

Questions About the Book

I absolutely loved the descriptions of Aussie nature in Cracked. Why was it important to the story to have such intricate and detailed descriptions?
Thanks Jaz. Nature is important in the book – a love of the earth and a longing to protect and care for the earth is a central theme. Clover’s relationship to nature, and the idea of nature as a pathway to reverence and love in her childhood shapes her connection with life and with home – in particular, her local area, especially the creek. Trees are significant to Clover – the golden ash she made cubbies in as a child, the willow down the road from Keek’s and the poor gum from across the road that is tinder for the flint of her call to activism. I guess the detail is an attempt to transmit this importance to the reader, so they understand Clover’s motivations.

Racism is addressed in Cracked - do you find that it's still a serious issue in schools despite Australia being such a multicultural society?
I was born in England and grew up as an Aussie in the 70s and so I never experienced racism first hand. In the early years of my high school, one of my besties was Indian in a largely Anglo school and she copped a lot of name-calling and racist nonsense that slipped under the radar as being ‘jokey’ – but I remember her being very upset and also remember yelling at people about it in passionate outrage on her behalf: her experience woke up my understanding that racism hurts. Unfortunately, I think there is systemic racism in Australia which results from our history not being properly examined and redressed: ‘Terra nullius’ and the White Australia Policy, for example. It’s not difficult to see the ‘turn back the boats’ campaign as a reworking of ‘White Australia’ prejudice. Schools are switched on to bullying of all kinds these days, but in my opinion, Australia has a long way to go as a free and equitable society (and isn’t being helped by our backwards-looking conservative government); nevertheless, great schools do great work in helping shape such a society. As to young people themselves, of course it depends on the individuals, but generally I find that the young adults I know accept diversity of all kinds without a lot of fuss.

Art was a key way of expression for Clover (I realised many characters had their own ways of expression), and I noticed there was a lot of research into art/paint/colours etc. Are you an artist yourself?
I’m not a fine artist, alas, though I dabble now and then. I think my longing to express myself through fine arts shows itself in Ms Yamouni’s passion. I think an artistic sensibility is important though, and that a person can have, and cultivate, an artistic view of the world. Having an imagination is what is inherently artistic in the human being, I think. Perhaps that’s what our education should be about: developing imagination so that we can see the world through an artistic lens. We’re going to need our imaginations to think in new ways and try new styles of living together, growing food, distributing food, looking after nature, generating electricity, etc., if we’re going to comfortably survive the fall-out from how stupidly we’ve managed the industrial revolution.

Many teenagers go through that phase of "rebellion" in high school. I know I had friends who did. However, reading from Clover's POV, it wasn't so much rebellion as a way of handling difficult situations. Do you think there are two groups of people then - those that rebel because they're bored and those that look like they're rebelling but are just surviving?
Jaz, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with Clover – she doesn’t set out to be a rebel any more than Keek does; they’re just trying to make sense of the world – but Clover would definitely change it, if she could. I’m not sure kids rebel because they’re bored: boredom leads to creativity. If kids haven’t had a chance to play freely – to strengthen their imaginations in childhood – boredom can lead to a kind of deadening of the soul and from that springs a kind of nihilism, I guess, which is what destructive vandalism/behaviour might be about – as well as angry frustration at the injustices of life, of course. The reasons we rebel are multi-layered – as are the reasons we don’t rebel. I believe that in its highest form, the idealism of youth is pure-of-heart and while it may be considered na├»ve, it perhaps sees more truly into the realities – the status quo is not always serving the greater good; finding a ‘comfort zone’ in an unhappy or unsustainable situation and hanging on regardless of the soul’s longing (or the suffering of others … or even our likelihood of surviving!) is not necessarily ‘mature’, but rather the result of fear. However, I don’t think we should be expecting young people to save us with their idealism while those with experience, power and influence actively work against it in every conceivable way – I’m pretty sure that if we want to change the world for the better we have to lead by example (or get out of the way).

What would you like readers to take away from Cracked?
A feeling that life is worthwhile, however crazy it is. I’d like the reader to feel like they’ve found friends in the book. I love books where that happens.

This or That Round

1. Living in one of the capital cities of Australia, or the country?
I often wish I lived near the CBD – in North Carlton or Fitzroy or East Brunswick or something, or maybe out West … but I need trees, so it’s the country for me. And an instant matter transfer machine please.

2. Wine from the Barossa Valley or Hunter Valley?
I am bound by regional duty to reject both these fine choices and say wine from the Upper Yarra Valley in Victoria.

3. Prussian blue or ultramarine blue? (a little something from the book)
Prussian, definitely. Love it.

4. Ebooks or print books?
Print. I am grateful that I’ve managed to get published while paper books are still a thing. I think print and ebooks are different creatures and both have their place in the world, but my house is full of paper books. I love them.

5. Aussie winter or Aussie summer?
Summer, most definitely! (But no bushfires, please).

Such awesome and thoughtful responses, thank you Clare!

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Review


“I cracked when I was eleven, but it didn’t show.”

It has been so long since I’ve read an Aussie YA book – not just one by an Aussie author but one actually set in Australia. Cracked was a very refreshing and quick read about a teenager trying to fit in high school and Strahan gives it the perfect touch that makes it distinctly Australian.

Clover’s character was an interesting one. At times I didn’t always think her thoughts were plausible for a 15-year-old (such as musings about black stuff coming off her soul) but she’s written in a very relatable way. Her mother’s eccentricities leave Clover to be considered an outcast in school. She’s like that disruptive kid in high school who got kicked out of class often which a lot of people found annoying. I never understood these people. Now, I think I do. Clover’s home life and struggles spark what looks like a rebellious nature to outsiders, but really, it’s her way of coping with everything that life’s throwing at her. She’s affected by issues of climate change, of oppression and she turns to art to express herself. Not always in the right way though. I thought Strahan did a really good job portraying the naiveties of a 15 year old in that sense – Clover thinks that what she does is right but doesn’t consider the consequences, and as teenagers I think that’s ok because they’re just beginning to face realities of the world. It’s overwhelming, it’s shocking and we lash out in different ways.

I liked how the secondary characters showed Australian culture. From Ms. Yamouni, to Mrs. T, to Trung I appreciated the multiculturalism because we are a very diverse society. So I guess I was sort of shocked when racism had a part in this. The way the students first react to Ms. Yamouni the new art teacher, or Trung a student who is obviously born and bred Aussie despite his first name. In this day and age, racism shouldn’t be an issue in schools. Emphasis on schools. When I attended high school I never had issues with racism. Everyone in my school was a mix of different backgrounds – even my teachers, the majority of which were Greek or Italian. Hence, why I would have assumed it was a given that the students and teachers would come from different ethnic backgrounds in Cracked. Still, it’s good this is dealt with well. Ms. Yamouni was definitely my favourite secondary character in this, she’s accepting, understanding and teaches everybody about tolerance.

“You’d better learn some respect. I won’t have racism in this classroom.”

The romance was so adorbs. Venturing into first love, Clover has absolutely no idea about her feelings for Rob or Keek and it was cute watching her stumble her way through and grow into her feelings. I absolutely loved Keek. He was a constant for Clover throughout the book despite dealing with his own problems. Poor kid was going through so much and yet he still watches over Clover and accompanies her on some of her crazier adventures.

I absolutely LOVED the way art was used here. Strahan gives everyone a form of expression – Keek with his riding, Clover’s mum with her Steiner thing – and Clover’s is art. Colours are so well detailed here and I got a few art lessons out of it. It was fascinating how Strahan phrased how an artist thinks and shows themselves through a medium. I loved the way Clover got lost in her own world because I got lost with her.

“Moving the blue there’s a sense of expanding space, like a dark ocean or an evening sky. Or even what’s behind the sky – the swirling cosmos that has no edges, no end.”

Strahan’s writing style is sophisticated but also incorporates Aussie slang because that’s how we talk. Her writing flows well and I couldn’t tell this was a debut which is always a good sign. I did learn a few words here (not sure they’re entirely appropriate lol) but at times thought the profanity was a bit much. Either way, very well written, especially the descriptions. Perfect descriptions of Aussie landscapes!

I’m gonna give massive two thumbs up to Strahan for a very, very particular reason. The word ‘slut’ was used here. As soon as I saw it, I froze. Slut shaming has been a massive talked about topic in YA and I was cringing, thinking “oh please no don’t slut shame I can’t read this if you slut shame”. STRAHAN DOESN’T SLUT SHAME. Biggest hugs to her for that. Instead, the word is discussed, the meaning and connotations associated with it drawn out and no real labelling is made. This really stood out for me in the book because far out the amount of books I’ve read that just casually chuck the word ‘slut’ out there and label people, it’s infuriating. You guys, you have no idea how impressed I was by this.

“I’m not convinced. Why does somebody suddenly become a ‘slut’?”

A great debut that encompasses the many qualms of our teenage years, written in an idyllic Australian style with lovely descriptions and an adorable romance, this book accurately portrays the cracks we all have in ourselves.

“Make beauty from pain there’s a kind of joy in that; and maybe that’s what art is for?”

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About Clare


Clare Strahan is a Melbourne writer who once rattled out a novel on a manual typewriter by candlelight. She is also a drama tutor with a passion for Shakespeare, a graduate of RMIT's Professional Writing & Editing, a writer of fiction and poetry for humans of all ages and has published in Overland, where she curated their first fiction anthology and volunteers as a contributing editor. She is a freelance editor, creator of the Literary Rats cartoon, and flutters about the twittersphere as @9fragments.

Find her at the following places:
Website: http://clarestrahan.blogspot.com.au/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/9fragments

4 comments:

  1. You've definitely sold it for me: the nature, the art, Clover as a character. I love Aussie contemporary and I really want to read this now :)

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    1. Yay! I hope you enjoy this Emily. Tell me what you think afterwards.

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  2. This book sounds absolutely amazing Jaz! I love how much the author decided to incorporate into book to make it appear so realistic! I also love the sound of Clover and the romance you've mentioned too. I love it when I find friends in books too, so will definitely be adding this to the tbr! Thanks for sharing a great interview and post with us!

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    1. Yeah Clare really layered the book and made it seem really realistic and portrays Aussie high school life very well (:
      Thank you for the lovely comment Jas, hope you get a chance to check it out :D

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