From multi-award-winning author Judith Clarke, this is a magnificent and deeply moving story about two girls, a life-long friendship, and the heart's search for the real true thing.
'A gentle, deeply passionate novel that makes you feel for a moment when you have finished it that you have actually lived someone else's life.' - Ursula Dubosarsky
Judith Clarke is major force in YA fiction both in Australia and internationally. Her novels include the multi-award-winning Wolf on the Fold, as well as Friend of my Heart, Night Train, Starry Nights, and the very popular and funny Al Capsella series. Kalpana's Dream was named an Honor Book in the prestigious Boston Globe/Horn Book Awards and One Whole and Perfect Day was an Honor Book in the American Library Association's prestigious Michael L. Printz Awards for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. Her most recent novel, The Winds of Heaven, was named an Honour Book in the 2010 CBCA Book of the Year awards and shortlisted for the inaugural Prime Minister's Literary Award. Judith lives in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.
It is the summer of 1959 in the small country town of Barinjii. Ruth waits for her exam results to know whether or not she has earned a scholarship to Sydney University. Her Nan is determined that Ruth won’t be trapped in Barinjii as she was. Ruth’s best friend, Fee, has decided to stay permanently. But Ruth isn’t so sure she wants to leave especially when Tam Finn, the local bad boy, shows an interest in her. Though tempted, Ruth knows that she would only ever be one of Tam’s girls. ‘They were like small soft birds who’d fallen into some kind of trap, a net woven from the long tender grass and the hot spicy scents of summer and everything that was beautiful on earth.’ She decides on Sydney and, eventually, a life on the other side of the world.
Shortly after Ruth’s departure, Tam Finn disappears. Ruth’s friendship with Fee endures. Fee has a large family and must learn to accept her sons have grown up. Ruth marries and divorces but remains childless. Retired from her teaching career, she agrees to become a foster carer for Dancey whom she believes is the grand-daughter of Tam Finn. A victim of abuse and neglect, Dancey must either accept Ruth’s offer of love or continue the family cycle of self-destruction.Three Summers is a book that speaks mainly to young adult female readers. Its complex themes include the power of love to both hurt and heal, the trade-off between loss and gain involved in making choices, and the right of every child to be loved. Judith Clarke’s prose evokes concrete and ethereal elements of the remote setting: heat and dust; passions and secrets; gossip and ghosts. Despite its gritty realism, Three Summers promotes the belief that most people given the chance are essentially good.
Students of Australia’s social history will find much in this book to stimulate discussion and further research but it will also appeal to readers interested in exploring these universal human concerns.
Sharon Hammad, NSW
The year is 1959, Ruth lives in the small country town of Barinjii, near Dubbo, with her father Ray and Grandmother Margaret May. When Ruth was a small baby she and her mother were in a car accident, her mother was killed, but Ruth was thrown clear, unharmed. Ruth’s father never really got over the loss of his wife, and Ruth’s Grandmother is the major influence in her life. Margaret May is convinced Ruth is destined for great things she wants her granddaughter to achieve all she can; she encourages Ruth to sit for a scholarship to Sydney University.
Ruth’s best friend Fee Lachlan has no interest in leaving Barinjii, she plans to marry her high school sweetheart and have lots of babies, and even though their dreams are very different their friendship is lasting.Ma rgaret May has had a hard life, growing up in an orphanage and then marrying a man who treated her abusively, she has a lifelong friend in Father Joseph but he disagrees with the idea of Ruth going to University in Sydney. When Ruth succeeds in winning a scholarship to Sydney University, Father Joseph preaches a sermon on the evils of life in the city and the “Sink of Iniquity” that is the university.
After an encounter with Tam Finn, the bad boy of the town, Ruth questions whether her desire to go to Sydney to study is what she really wants or if she is fulfilling her Grandmother’s dream. Is Tam really so bad or just misunderstood? Why does she fell this strange attraction to him? Are the rumours true? Would it be so bad to stay, marry and have children like her friend Fee? Ruth finally comes to the decision that the right path for her, is to further her education and see the world. About 20 year later, Ruth has graduated from University, is now working in London, she marries and then divorces but keeps in contact with Fee who now has five sons and still lives in Barinjii. Fee is beginning to wonder what if she had chosen to go on with her studies instead of settling for marriage and motherhood. Fee’s youngest son Josh is very bright and she has dreams for him, that he will go to University in Sydney, and see the world like her friend Ruth. However Josh meets a girl, slightly older than he is, and his mother is shocked to find that they have decided marry, she feels that he is going to ruin all his chances, however Fee comes to realise there are different kinds of happiness. The happiness her friend Ruth has found, the happiness Josh has found and the happiness she has found in her own life, they are all different kinds of happiness but they are all the “one true thing” for each of them.
Now Ruth is 60, living outside Sydney, in the mountains, she has taken in a foster child, a troubled 13 year-old girl who calls herself Dancer, although her real name is Helen. Dancer reminds Ruth of Tam Finn, the boy from back home, could it be that she is related to him? Where the rumours of him fathering children to lots of local girls true? Dancer has many trust issues and has faced much adversity in her short life. Can Ruth get through to this girl and help her to have a happy life, to find her “one true thing”? This was a wonderfully heart warming story, of friendship, the choices there are in your life and finding your own happiness. I will be recommending this book to girls from year 9 to 12.
Jan O'Sullivan, Mooroolbark. Vic.
Three Summers opens with the main character, Ruth, waking from a dream about local boy Tam Finn. There are many recurring themes and characters in this dream-like novel. Small-town life in Australia in the fifties and early sixties is described in painstaking, sometimes cringeworthy detail. Despite its limitations, the town of Barinjii offers Ruth many riches : the wonderfully evoked friendship with Fee and the bond with her substitute mother, Nan. Ruth is destined, so her Nan tells her, to go to Sydney University. Her best friend doesn’t share her ambition. Fee happily tells Ruth, ‘I’m going to stay here and be a mum, keep the home fires burning.’ And so she does. Ruth envies her certainty, but knows that life is not for her. Ruth’s parents died in a car accident that she survived, and was ‘thrown clear to have a life, a special life,’ (Nan again). Staying behind is not an option for Ruth, but leaving is terrifying. And then there is Tam Finn.
The themes of country life, teenage friendship, first love and longing, religion and the need to belong are not new, but in the hands of an experienced writer like Judith Clarke, they become fresh and acutely real. Clarke knows how to elicit recognition and emotion from the smallest details. Some younger readers might find the authorial voice too distant and the second part of the book, which describes Ruth’s life as an adult, less appealing. I’m sure that all readers will appreciate the writing; subtle, gentle and burnished with light brush strokes. It is not a fast-paced read, but anyone who has read Judith Clarke knows that her beautiful language, vivid characters and sense of place represent a real literary journey.
Suzanne Hemming, St Columba’s College, Essendon, Victoria.
Judith Clarke is such an esteemed writer; Three Summers adds to her impressive list of Young Adult Fiction. The narrative begins in Barinjii (near Dubbo) in the summer of 1959. Ruth Gower has just finished her HSC and is awaiting her results and impending acceptance to Sydney University. While Ruth lives with her father and grandmother, she has basically been raised by her grandmother. Growing up in an orphanage and then constrained in an oppressive marriage, Ruth’s Nan is determined for Ruth to pursue a career and ‘see the world.’
Ruth’s story is juxtaposed with her best friend Fee. At a time in Australian society when women were fighting for their place in the workforce, this becomes a focal theme in the narrative. Fee chooses the role of wife and mother, marrying her high school boyfriend Mattie Howe during the Easter of 1960. Fee is happy to ‘keep the home flag flying.’ Fee’s contentment in staying in Barinjii doesn’t separate the lifelong friendship of the two females.Against the backdrop of small town gossip, the local minister Father Joseph preaches against University. Citing front page headlines ‘Sex Scandals Rock Our Universities.’ He preaches from the pulpit ‘... what better life can there be for a young woman than to be the centre of her own home and family?’Amidst her anxiety about departing for Sydney, Ruth must come to terms with the love she has for local ‘bad boy’ Tam Finn. He has been kicked out of school, is disliked at home and is known to have slept with a number of girls, this knowledge doesn’t seem to hinder Ruth’s affections for him. While Ruth never has a relationship with Tam Finn, in a clever narrative twist, in her retirement, Ruth ends up caring for one of Tam Finn’s descendents.
Jodie Webber, Hurlstone Agricultural High, NSW
Three Summers is a cross generational story about love, irrevocable life events and the intricacies of family life. Judith Clarke cleverly brings together a tale of small town gossip, friendships across time and of women leading very different lives. Across three summers, a story is told of the importance of belonging and being loved, of dreams unfulfilled, wistful longing for love and of lives impacted by tragedy. The story captures the dreamy romance of first love through the eyes of Ruth and Fee. One marries, one has a career, but which one has it all? The story explores the question of how can we know if we're truly happy? Is it living the dreams expected of us by others or being true to ourselves and finding our own way or somewhere in between? Three Summers implicitly includes the story of three men that struggle in their own search for happiness, love and perhaps, acceptance.
Judith Clarke’s Three Summers is a well written and captivating novel that I would recommend for inclusion on the Secondary School library shelf. The novel has potential links to Year 9/10 Humanities, as useful excerpts can be drawn from the story to highlight the ideological perspectives surrounding women's choices and rights during the 1960s. Young adult readers could explore and discuss how the character's lives may have been determined or limited by the social expectations of marriage, children and career options available during this era. This is a novel that could reflect aspects of your own life, your mother’s, or someone you know: a beautiful, hopeful and heartbreaking story all at the same time.
Sandra Hillier, Pre-service Teacher, La Trobe University
In her most recent novels, Judith Clarke has explored women’s themes of past and present, city and country, education and domesticity. In The Winds of Heaven we were drawn into the very different lives of Fan and Clementine in a story that was visceral in its emotional impact. Three Summers has much in common with this 2009 novel, but here we are a little more detached in our reading as we learn of the shaping of Ruth and Fee in a friendship that endures many decades.
The first of the three summers in 1959, in a section titled ‘Secret Places’, has the girls awaiting their exam results in the town of Barinjii, with Ruth’s future looking academically bright, and Fee having already found love and with no expectations other than marriage and children. Ruth’s path is not easy. Small country town gossip chips away at her family, including the circumstances of her grandfather’s and then her mother’s deaths and her grandmother’s friendship with the parish priest. Ruth has hopes of a university education, a suspect ambition in this environment, but she is not immune to the charms of the local bad boy, Tam Finn with his ‘rainy grey’ eyes, along with just about every girl in town. When she does get her scholarship and moves to Sydney, Ruth hopes to run into Tam but it is no more than fanciful dreaming. In a very short interlude years later when Ruth has graduated, the second summer has her in London, enjoying a successful career and with a short, childless marriage just ended. Letters are important in each of the three sections and here we learn of Ruth’s new life through her letters to Fee, mother to five boys and still married to her childhood sweetheart. Significantly, this section is called ‘Happiness’.
Many years later, the third part of the novel, ‘The Real True Thing’, sees Ruth back in Australia, living a contented life that has gathered a ‘family’ of godchildren and temporary foster placements. One such is the difficult Dancey, and it is through her that Tam comes back into Ruth’s life in a touch of magical realism that ties all the threads together and answers the questions that have been posed earlier in the novel. The redemptive power of love leaves us hoping that Dancey’s future will be as bright as Ruth’s and Fee’s.Judith Clarke’s writing is never less than sparkling. One of our finest writers, she is able to weave imagery and poetic sentences to create a memorable reading experience. Her characters have depth and ambiguity, and she has an ear for dialogue and an eye for startling, fresh description. I always feel immensely sad to finish one of her novels – a sort of grieving – grateful for the experience, but sad to have to let it go, and find myself thinking about her books for months after reading them.Three Summers gives a social snapshot and insight into the choices faced by young women of the period. It would work extremely well as a paired text with The Winds of Heaven and both books would speak to an adult readership as much as to the upper end of YA. Production values are beautiful with a gorgeous cover and thoughtful internal design.
Judi Jagger, WA
Three Summers by Judith Clarke is a beautifully descriptive novel. The lengthy descriptions interrupted the flow of the writing. The plot dwindled to an end. The characters were intriguing and the story was told in an interesting perspective. It involves three summers yet an entire lifetime.
Ruth is a clever girl. Her grandmother raised her with the hope that one day she would attend university. Ruth, who has doubts, has to decide whether this is the life she wants. This would involve leaving her best friend, Fee, behind and Tam Finn, a boy who seems to be haunting her. As the story moves on to the later years of her life, Fee's children have grown up and she is struggling to let go of her youngest son. Ruth has chosen her path but is haunted by the past. Ultimately, they are all searching for "the real true thing". This is a book I would recommend to people with patience. It is the sort of book to read on a long summer's day.
Tiffany Blake, Wynyard High School
Three Summers follows 3 periods in Ruth's life, the first as she finishes school and awaits results of her exams and of a scholarship to university, the second as Ruth is in London in her thirties and the third as Ruth is back in Sydney in her fifties. The first period occupies over half of the story and sets the scene and introduces us to main characters which influence Ruth's life. This first story is set in 1950's rural New South Wales out near Dubbo. Ruth lives with her father a rather distant man and her grandmother, her mother died in a car crash when Ruth was a baby. Her grandmother grew up in the local orphanage and has such high hopes for Ruth, chief among them, to get out of this small town and make something of herself. Ruth spends the summer vacillating between staying with her best friend Fee where life is safe and secure or heading to an unknown and challenging future at Sydney uni. Her decision is not helped by her encounters with the mysterious Tam Finn, who seems to charm any girl he likes. Sanity prevails and she leaves for Sydney. When we meet Ruth next it is through a series of letters with Fee who now has teenage children and all the problems and issues that come from that, this story is Fee's response to those challenges. The last story is set in a hot summer where Ruth lives in a bush fire prone area with a young foster girl who is very unusual but Ruth sees in her alot of the characteristics of Tam and wonders if there is a connection, this is resolved by the story's end.For me, this format didn't work. The first story stood alone and was long enough to have been one novel. The other 2 pieces did not enhance this first story or really add to it appreciatively.The first part would be useful as a discussion starter for life in 50's Australia, the changing life of girls at that time and social expectations.
Lorene Furmage - retired teacher librarian, Hobart Tasmania