All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Divine Clementine – Hayley S. Kirk

on June 6, 2012

Divine Clementine
Hayley S. Kirk
Random House AU
2012, 366p
Read from my local library

Clementine is 16 and has always shared a special relationship with her aunt Stella, her mother’s younger sister. Stella is only 10 years older than Clementine, a free spirit and someone who understands her. When Clementine is not getting along with her mother, it is Stella she turns to for sympathy.

When Clementine witnesses Stella’s tragic death, her whole world falls apart. Her grief is all encompassing, the loss of her idol making her feel as though the world will never be the same again. When her mother asks if she’d like to come and help them clear out Stella’s apartment and maybe choose a few mementos of Stella’s, Clementine doesn’t hesitate and she’s thrilled to find Stella’s diaries. She knows that she will treasure them forever.

Clementine is heartbroken after she reads the diaries, lost and confused about what she is seeing. The diaries paint a very different picture than the one Clementine has of her aunt. An unstable Stella, full of bitterness, self-loathing and hatred for those around her that cared about her most – including Clementine.

Divine Clementine is a YA novel tackling the tough topic of mental illness and how it feels for the people who are close to someone who suffers from it. Clementine is a typical teenager, she fights with her mother sometimes, going through that stage where you just don’t see eye to eye. She much prefers the company of her ‘cool’ Aunt Stella, who is young, funky, fee-spirited and with whom Clementine shares a deep bond. Clementine is unaware that her aunt was suffering from a mental illness until after her death when she read Stella’s diaries, usually written when she was at her depressive stage, pages and pages of self-deprecation and hatred for her more mentally healthy relatives. Stella is killed at the very beginning of the book so we don’t experience her bond with Clementine firsthand, just Clementine’s pain at her death and then her dreadful realisation of the truth about Stella, found out in the cruelest possible way.

Sometimes when I read YA I forget that I’m not always the target audience and though a lot of YA crosses over, there are moments which make it so glaringly obvious that I am Old Now. And reading about dramatic teenagers is one of them – there are times when Clementine needs a good kick in the pants, even though she’s a grieving teenager who had her world rocked. Some of the things she says and does are really quite shocking and for that, I definitely think that Kirk nailed a teenager’s reactions and also their actions when they’re looking to act out and maybe work off some steam. But I know that I’m drifting to the Other Side when I’m sympathising with parents, rather than the teens!

I do think that Divine Clementine definitely excels at its portrayal of just how difficult it is to be a close family member of someone with bi-polar or another mental illness. Clementine’s mother was Stella’s older sister and as the story unfolds you discover just how much time and effort she put in to helping Stella, or at least keeping her afloat when it became obvious that her ability to help Stella was very limited. Clementine finally realises what a toll that must of taken on her mother and just how special her mother is for continuing to keep doing it, for years and years. The heartbreak of Clementine’s grandmother and Stella’s mother is likewise well written, also her calm acceptance of Stella’s death and the fact that she couldn’t help her either.

Clementine is definitely a character who evolves over the course of this novel, as the tragedy regresses her to childish and difficult and then, at last, forces to grow and mature and deal with the trauma that she has experienced. I do think her progression is perhaps a little too rapid and unlikely but this isn’t a very long novel and I like that it definitely gives some closure, for Clementine personally and also for her and her family. Overall this novel probably isn’t going to help anyone who suffers from bi-polar or even someone who is close to someone who does, but I think what it will help do is raise awareness in the young adult demographic about the seriousness of it and also the helplessness of it. There’s still a stigma on mental illness and there’s also a lack of genuine knowledge about the various mental conditions and addressing this in fiction can only be a positive thing.


Book #99 of 2012

Divine Clementine is the 37th novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

6 responses to “Divine Clementine – Hayley S. Kirk

  1. What an interesting topic – I keep pretty detailed diaries myself but don’t know if I would ever want anyone to read them, even after my death. Thanks for the recommendation 🙂

    • I’m the same! I’ve always kept diaries from when I was in my early teens, but I think I’d want them destroyed, rather than have anyone read them. I think everyone deserves a place where they can vent without repercussion.

  2. What an interesting subject. I haven’t read many books about mental illness, but I’m always fascinated by it. Thanks for recommending this one, I’m putting it on my GR list 🙂

  3. […] Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Shift by Em Bailey (reviewed by Tsana’s Reads & Reviews), Divine Clementine by Hayley S Kirk and Everything Left Unsaid by Jessica […]

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