Review Blog

Nov 11 2011

Only Ever Always by Penny Russon

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Allen and Unwin, 2011. ISBN 9781741750447.
(Age 15 +) Readers may well find the beginning of this novel to be rather confusing as it switches quickly between the two very different worlds of Clara and Claire. Claire's world is one of safety, love and happiness. However, this world is shattered when she learns that her beloved Uncle Charlie has had an accident from which he may not recover. Clara's world is already shattered: she appears to have no parents, she lives in a wreck of a house and she scrapes a living together by scrounging. However, Clara does have two friends: the streetwise Groom, who clearly adores her, and the enigmatic Andrew, whom she adores. When Andrew becomes ill, Clara sets out to save him and so becomes embroiled in an even seamier side of life.
The literal link between these two stories is a musical globe which enables the girls to move between worlds. Befittingly, Claire's globe is whole whilst Clara's is shattered. But there are other more subtle links: the two quaint old ladies who live next to Claire also feature in Clara's world (in a more evil incarnation) and Andrew's battle against death mirrors Charlie's.
Unfortunately, there is much to confuse the reader in this book: Clara's world is difficult to understand at first and the frequent transition between the two worlds, at climactic points in the story, can be a tad jarring. Claire's second person narrative voice is also an odd choice as it often seems rather stilted; at other times her phrasing seems a little too poetic for a thirteen year old girl.  
However, for those readers who stick with it, there is also much to enjoy in this novel: as the twin stories draw closer together, we see how both girls deal with loss and grief. There may be elements of the story which are not fully explained but the ending is quietly satisfying.
Deborah Marshall

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