One Whole and Perfect Day

by Judith Clarke

Published by Allen and Unwin

300 pages, 2006

Buy it online




Refreshingly Upbeat

Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski


The title is based on the heroine's wish for just one perfect day for her family to spend together, on her grandfather's 80th birthday. So far, they haven't had much luck; every family occasion ends with arguments.

Lily wishes her family was normal. Her father -- called a "shifty hippy bugger" by her grandfather -- ran off to live in the United States before she was even born. Her mother, a qualified psychologist, works at an underpaid job in a day care facility for senior citizens and, softie that she is, keeps bringing home "lame ducks" for respite care when their families want time off. Her grandmother has an imaginary companion and her grandfather, whom she sees as an old racist, has chased her brother Lonnie away with an ax because he simply can't stick to any university course for long. The family home is so shabby her grandfather keeps making tasteless jokes about how they'd be better off burning it down and getting the home insurance money.

Lily also wishes that, for once, she could be something other than the sensible one in the family, that she could enjoy talking about boys and clothes and could like reading such girl magazines as Bestie. She gets the bright idea that she should do something rebellious and possibly a little silly, like -- well, like falling in love with the school hunk. But how is she going to get his attention when she smells like dishwater and onions and looks like her short, stocky grandfather? (And did the hunk really shudder with disgust when he passed her in the school grounds or was he in the early stages of chicken pox?)

Now Lonnie is not only sticking to his latest university course, he has met and fallen in love with a fellow-student, a Chinese Australian girl called Clara. Can he bring her to their grandfather's 80th birthday party, so carefully planned by their grandmother, without Clara suffering the embarrassment of being abused by the old man? Will grandfather Stan and Lonnie make up their quarrel on time? And will Lonnie's favorite writer, Emily Bronte, help?

This is a gently humorous and charming novel about family relationships. Everyone in the novel has family issues, and a small family. Grandmother May was a foundling; her imaginary companion is based on an older girl from the orphanage. Stan's mother and sister are long gone. Clara's mother, Rose, lost her parents at an early age, and she has no one in Australia apart from her husband and daughter. The family is just too small and precious for its members to be fighting. By the end of the novel, families have become extended and Lily realizes that the father who has just been a voice on the phone all her life is, after all, Dad, something she has not been able to call him before.

The storyline bounces around from one character to another, and each of the main characters is shown with sympathy and kindness, even Stan and Clara's grumpy father. It seems to have far too many threads, but they are all pulled together in the end, in a happy conclusion, and if there are a lot of coincidences, this is forgivable. Lily gets her longed-for whole and perfect day, as do all the other characters -- what else can one ask? Many young adult novels these days are so grim; the occasional positive story is a refreshing change. | October 2006


Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at and a review/SF blog at She lives in Australia.