By Author / Illustrator
Paperback / softback
Wake up. Friday. Clara Hart hits my car. Go to class. Anthony rates the girls. House party. Anthony goes upstairs with Clara. Drink. Clara dies. Wake up. Friday again. Clara Hart hits my car. Why can't I break this loop? A flicker in the fabric of time gives Spence a second chance. And a third. How many times will he watch the same girl die?
How long could you turn a blind eye to the actions of your friends, before speaking up?
Teenager James 'Spence' Spencer is coming to the slow realisation that his friends aren't the people he thought they were - and that, by association, he's walking a very dangerous path. After witnessing the death of classmate Clara Hart following a particularly harrowing house party, Spence realises that he has the opportunity to change the narrative, and save a life in the process as he relives that same Friday repeatedly. What follows is an incredible debut by author Louise Finch, which throws the doors open on the subject of gender, relationships and toxic masculinity.
The Eternal Return of Clara Hart goes for the jugular, as it dares to ask its readers to consider whether we ever truly know our friends. Could we live with our friends' actions and the parts (however small) we play in the narratives of others, or would we change it all in a heartbeat if given the chance? Spence uses chance after chance attempting to put things right, but nothing is ever that simple in the world of young adult fiction. Without giving too much away, Spence soon realises that life will change irrevocably for everyone around him, no matter what choices he makes - although only he will ever know to what extent. You will find yourself genuinely relieved by the fate of some characters, while celebrating the moments when others are held responsible for their own actions. I finished the book desperate for more, needing to know that Spence was honestly going to be okay. After all, we'd just been on a journey of substance abuse, parental loss, sexual assault, misogyny and drug use. It's a rollercoaster, and you're left breathless merely watching from the outside.
I have grown up with the 'do-over' genre, watching characters from all walks of life reliving trauma, tragedy and embarrassment in an attempt to outwit fate. The Eternal Return of Clara Hart follows many of the genre's rules, but does so on a journey with a character we genuinely care about. Spence has his flaws and demons, and some of his actions are questionable at best. However, I've never seen a protagonist from a 'do-over' narrative grow quite so exponentially. He really does risk it all in order to do the right thing and takes accountability for his actions. Sure, he's not as guilty as others (no spoilers!), but we cannot fault him for really, desperately trying to make amends. Louise Finch's characters are well written with humour, tragedy and villainy, ensuring that you never really know what version of events you're about to embark upon.
I would offer this book to older students, aged 14 years and over, due to young adult themes as discussed above. It would be a fantastic book to open conversations about consent, accountability, misogyny and morality, as well as discussions surrounding the complex nature of teenaged friendships.
288 pages / Reviewed by Louise Baker, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 14+