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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 937

Author: Judith Clarke (b. 1943)

First published: 2006

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Time of plot: Present day

Locale: Suburban Sydney, New South Wales

Principal characters

Lily, a sixteen-year-old girl

Lonnie, her brother

Marigold, her mother, a psychologist

Nan, her grandmother

...

(The entire section contains 937 words.)

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Author: Judith Clarke (b. 1943)

First published: 2006

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Time of plot: Present day

Locale: Suburban Sydney, New South Wales

Principal characters

Lily, a sixteen-year-old girl

Lonnie, her brother

Marigold, her mother, a psychologist

Nan, her grandmother

Pop, a.k.a. Stan, her grandfather

Daniel Steadman, her romantic interest

Clara, Lonnie's girlfriend

Rose, her mother

Jessaline, her neighbor and friend

The Story

Lily Samson wishes she had a "proper" family. When walking home from school, she imagines the perfect lives of her neighbors' families. She knows her family will never match those in her imagination because her father abandoned them before she was born; they live in a ramshackle house; her older brother, Lonnie, has always been irresponsible; and her mother, Marigold, a psychologist who works with the elderly, is too busy with her job to handle all the household duties. That leaves Lily to take on those chores, and she is tired of being the sensible one. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press, cover art copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.

Though Lily longs for what she considers to be a normal family, she knows her family loves her, and she loves them as well. But her inner thoughts focus on her concern for them. Though her grandmother Nan is a wonderful and sweet grandmother, Lily worries because Nan has an imaginary friend named Sef. Pop, her grandfather, is gruff and impatient, and Lily fears that he is a racist. Pop is so impatient with Lonnie that he chased Lonnie away, so Lily and Marigold are on their own, while Lonnie has moved into a boardinghouse. Though Lonnie's absence is a relief in some ways, Lily worries about him attending classes and taking care of himself. She also develops a crush on Daniel Steadman, a boy in her school, and wonders if he likes her as well.

Though Lily thinks she is the only one with problems, the story also follows Lonnie, who is less concerned about their family's situation but lacks focus in his own life. His academic record at the university is problematic. Then he meets Clara, an older girl who helps him find direction. In turn, Clara's attraction to Lonnie helps her overcome her own family problems; among other issues, she has recently moved into the university dormitories after refusing to let her father control her life as he does her mother's. Lonnie proposes to her, and she accepts. Clara's neighbor Jessaline also has family problems: her parents are professors and expect her to undertake an academic path, but she wants to study culinary arts. Rose, Clara's mother, is also starting to challenge the subservient role she has played in her home.

When Nan proposes an eightieth birthday party for Pop, Lily determines that the party will be "one whole and perfect day" that will bring the family together and solve their problems. She still struggles with worries about her crush on Daniel, her perception of Pop's racism, Pop's and Lonnie's estrangement, Lonnie's engagement to Clara, her mother, and many other uncontrollable issues that will challenge her ability to let that perfect day happen. As the day draws close, however, these problems resolve, and Lily sees that she really does have the perfect family, even if they are unconventional.

Critical Evaluation

Judith Clarke uses limited third-person narration with shifting viewpoints to tell the stories of each of the characters. Though Lily is the central character, Lonnie, Marigold, Clara, Jessaline, Rose, Pop, and Nan are all the focus of different sections of the novel. As each character's story is shared, Clarke ties them together to highlight the characters' strengths and flaws. For example, English major Clara is attracted to the romantic-looking Lonnie, and just as he is about to drop another university class because of a bad grade, she shows him how to believe in himself and stick with something that he enjoys. Lonnie and Pop disagree, but Pop is not as hard-hearted as Lily thinks, and it takes Lonnie's memory of Pop's love to break the impasse between the two men in Lily's life. Lily thinks Pop is a racist, which is of particular concern to her because Clara is of Chinese descent, but the older man's soft heart is more open to others than Lily can see; he befriends Rose, Clara's mother, and worries about a poor girl he sees begging on a train. Meanwhile, Jessaline, a friend and neighbor of Clara's, is happiest when she is cooking, but her parents have different expectations for her. As the characters' stories unfold, each one learns to stand up for what he or she believes in, regardless of what others think.

The main theme of the novel is the idea that families are never perfect. Though Lily thinks her family is dysfunctional and other families are superior, the glimpses Clarke offers into the families of supporting characters Clara and Jessaline illustrate for Lily and the reader that other people have struggles as well. Even Pop's and Nan's memories of their childhoods show that families change or can be defined differently. By the end of the novel, Lily has begun to understand that she can appreciate the people she loves even if they do not fit into her idealized mold.

Further Reading

  • Bursztynski, Sue. "Refreshingly Upbeat." Review of One Whole and Perfect Day, by Judith Clarke, January Magazine, Oct. 2006, www.januarymagazine.com/kidsbooks/onewhole.html. Accessed 16 Jan. 2018.
  • Review of One Whole and Perfect Day, by Judith Clarke. Publishers Weekly, 12 Mar. 2007, p. 59. Literary Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=24402967&site=lrc-live. Accessed 16 Jan. 2018.
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