Shades of Scarlet
When Scarlet’s parents separate, all she gets is a few days’ notice and a pretty scarlet notebook. The notebook is a gift in which Scarlet can write about her ‘brand- new life’, but she vows to write only the harsh truth about her selfish mother and useless father. Of course, the truth is never quite so simple.
Shades of Scarlet might be a quiet book if the main character, Scarlet, wasn’t so quick, stubborn and funny. This is because relationships change and end in quite ordinary and subdued ways, even when the result is heartbreaking. And while there is betrayal, jealousy and tears, there can also be kindness.
This is what Anne Fine is especially deft at: combining moments of crisis with both wit and empathy. Scarlet’s world is realistically populated with others who are adapting to new families and lives, though some of these characters (a single mother, a friend adjusting to a disability) deserve more page time. Fine often focuses on families: how they are made and broken, and what happens to young people in the process.
This might be called ‘growing up’, but doesn’t necessarily translate to ‘acting like a grown up’. The adults of the novel are equally capable of being sulky, secretive and angry. Maturity is mainly about the ability to have awkward, honest conversations, as difficult for parents as it is for their own teenagers. This is how the truth is found, and if it’s painful and rewarding, it can also be quite funny.