By Author / Illustrator
Friends and family
David Fickling Books
Paperback / softback
When Mum gives her the notebook, Scarlet should be happy. It's beautiful, with its shiny scarlet cover and its blank pages full of promise. But Scarlet is absolutely not in the mood for a peace offering. Does Mum really think she can tear their family apart and expect Scarlet to be happy about it? And it's Dad's fault too. Why didn't he fight to keep them all together? Now Scarlet has to start a new life, and none of it was her choice. Scarlet decides there's only one thing she can write in the notebook. The truth, about everything...
In Shades of Scarlet, Scarlet's world implodes when her parents' relationship falls apart and her mum leaves her dad, taking Scarlet with her. To add insult to injury, her mum has a boyfriend who Scarlet only finds out about on the school grapevine as, embarrassingly, he's the uncle of one of her classmates. Livid, she blames her mum for turning her world upside down, but is also deeply disappointed in her poor dad for not putting up more of a fight. When her well-meaning mum gifts her a gorgeous scarlet covered notebook to write her thoughts and feelings in, Scarlet is incandescent with rage - surely her mum's only motive can be to sneakily read it and spy on her?
Caught in the middle of this messy break-up, Scarlet must find a way to navigate her way through the fallout, realising that her parents are people in their own right and, most disturbingly, don't always have all the answers. Can an outspoken, impulsive, snarky, self-centred teenager possibly know better than the adults? And most importantly, can she come through this tempestuous and life-changing time of upheaval to understand that the adults around her really are doing their best to sort out the emotional mess and still care deeply for her?
Scarlet is a superbly spiky character - not always likeable as she stirs up trouble and makes a hobby out of snide and spiteful comments - but always completely relatable. Everyone who has, or has ever been, a teenager will recognise Scarlet! We feel the full range of her emotions from anger and confusion to hurt and frustration as well as the sense of conflict she feels as she's shunted between houses, seemingly forced to side with one parent or the other while alternately despising them both. All of the characters - adult and teenagers - are so superbly drawn that we completely understand their point of view and can empathise with all of them.
Nothing is off limits in this insightful and honest exploration of the complexities of blended family relationships, new partners, potential new baby siblings and older stepbrothers as well as school hierarchies and the importance of good friends to get you through tough times. Ultimately, this is an honest, insightful and reassuring story. Not every character gets a 'happy ever after' ending but all emerge from the chaos with a hopeful future.
The Ab-Fab style parent-child role reversal is nothing new but is given a clever contemporary spin in Shades of Scarlet. Anne Fine excels at observational comedy and is still at the top of her game here, tackling serious family issues with a lightness of touch and showing growing up to be a messy, confusing but still very funny and survivable business. Her knack of really getting under the skin of her characters, her eagle eye for detail and finely-tuned ear for dialogue, sharp wit and bitingly funny comments are second to none and make anything and everything she writes hugely readable.
With its important themes, engaging characters, short 'just one more' chapters and snappy chapter headings, Shades of Scarlet will appeal to both enthusiastic and occasional readers. It fits perfectly into that hard to fill gap between middle grade and YA. As a story for building empathy, it is a masterpiece. I can't recommend it highly enough.
288 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Eileen Armstrong, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 11+