A stunning and lyrical debut novel
Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.
Eight-year-old Hariet, known to all as Ari, is dispatched to Cape Breton and her Aunt Mary, who is purported to eat little girls. But Mary and her partner, Nia, offer an unexpected refuge to Ari and her steadfast companion, Jasper, an imaginary seahorse.
Yet the respite does not last, and Ari is torn from her aunts and forced back to her twisted mother and fractured sisters. Her new stepfather, Len, and his family offer hope, but as Ari grows to adore them, she’s severed violently from them too, when her mother moves in with the brutal Dick Irwin.
Through the sexual revolution and drug culture of the 1960s, Ari struggles with her father’s legacy and her mother’s addictions, testing limits with substances that numb and men who show her kindness. Ari spins through a chaotic decade of loss and love, the devilish and divine, with wit, tenacity, and the astonishing balance unique to seahorses.
The Clay Girl is a beautiful tour de force about a child sculpted by kindness, cruelty, and the extraordinary power of imagination, and her families — the one she’s born in to and the one she creates.
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Heather Tucker has won many prose and short-story writing competitions, and her stories have appeared in anthologies and literary journals. She lives in Ajax, Ontario.
Published: October 2016
Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5 in.
“Tucker's triumphant debut novel is the story of a childhood lost, a family found, and a coming-of-age, recounted in precise and poetic language … It is at times difficult to read, but this novel is worth every moment of pain and every tear.” — Publishers Weekly, starred
“Ari Appleton will take your breath away … Astonishingly exquisite debut novel … Author Tucker's prose is as lyrical and powerful as the ocean, Ari's voice as sure and strong as a rudder through wild seas … Her rare gift of showing us beauty, hope and humour amid profound trauma make The Clay Girl an extraordinary debut novel.” — Toronto Star
“This is a beautifully written story of strength and resilience, leading to ultimate victory over seemingly impossible challenges. Hariet/Ari/Arielle (known by various names to different people at different times) was born into an epically dysfunctional family. She must deal with an uncaring mother, a sexual predator father, and an abusive stepfather while being denied escape to a loving, supportive aunt. Despite these and other challenges, the girl not only survives, but, with help from caring teachers, grows into a strong young woman who finds love and is able to nurture others as well as herself. This book, which is like no other in terms of character, voice, and plot, rewards the reader with a memorable heroine who triumphs over daunting odds.” — Joe Strebel, Anderson’s Bookshop (Naperville, IL)
“Ari Appleton has been dealt the worst hand ever in terms of parents: her dad is an incestuous pedophile who’s both charismatic and cruel, and her mother is an incredibly egocentric addict who bore six girls and has not an iota of love for anyone but herself. But Ari attracts goodness and mines kindness even from the most surprising people, and because she is a story weaver, she reroutes her own story. Ari moves away from the drug culture and sexual revolution in Toronto in the 1960s to Pleasant Cove, an idyllic place where she is surrounded by love and nurturing. This novel is full of those take-away-your-breath lines, the ones you want to write down and keep in your pocket for when you need them. Ari joins the ranks of heroines like Lyra Belacqua or Liesel Meminger, girls who take the worst society has to offer and turn it into strength and kindness.” — Linda Sherman-Nurick, Cellar Door Bookstore (Riverside, CA)
“This is definitely one of my favourite books of all time, and I will be recommending it to every reader I come across!” — Flavia the Bibliophile
“In Ari Appleton, Heather Tucker has created an unforgettable little girl whose resilience in the face of heartbreaking circumstances is remarkable. The Clay Girl tackles a difficult subject with tenderness, empathy and unflinching honesty.” — Lynne Kutsukake, author of The Translation of Love
“In Heather Tucker’s debut novel, The Clay Girl, the language is consistently playful and evocative, the characters are disturbing and lovable, the plot is profound and carefully constructed. Tucker’s voice is unique and powerful. She is certainly a writer to watch.” — Michelle Berry, author of Interference
“The resilience and strength Ari attains in spite of her ugly circumstances are told in a luminous and poetic prose.” — San Francisco Chronicle
“The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker is an extraordinary read from cover to cover. This is one of those all too rare novels that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf.” — Midwest Book Review
“This book left me searching the depths of my subconscious for the shape of my soul — I still haven't found it. But the narrative voice smoothly evolves from the perspective of a young girl to a young woman, and the main character, Ari, is so engaging that she distracts you from her horrific past. I was more than happy to float alongside her through a story that evolved the ways I look at myself, at others, and at love." — Lara Hnizdo, Boulder Book Store (Boulder, CO)
“It is the voice of the characters, the kindness of strangers and the ingenuity and determination of our protagonist against terrible forces that make this story sing.” — San Francisco Chronicle
“[An] unbelievably accomplished first novel.” — NOW Magazine
“WOW! Incredible writing meets an absolutely devastating story in this amazing poetic debut novel. The struggle to overcome brutal emotional and physical trauma in childhood colors every aspect of the lives of the Appleton sisters. Tucker’s writing is edgy, sparse, and inventive as she expertly shows us the inner thoughts and workings of a truly dysfunctional family which manages to maintain hope and grace despite incredible odds. Achingly beautiful!” — Phyllis Spinale of Wellesley Books
“A difficult subject but a very moving read.” — Book Trail
“The Clay Girl is a novel imbued with the language of childhood, tangled by fears and fantasy, into a painfully brutal fairytale. Ari too often has to face tragedy with her brave strong heart as she is repeatedly ripped from her home, sometimes landing in a better place, sometimes in a broken place, she never stops hoping for a place to belong. This unforgettable debut is as full of grace, spirit, and tenacity as Ari, and like Ari faces uncomfortable truths with tenderness and imagination.”— Luisa Smith, book buyer at Book Passage
“The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker is an amazing debut. The story of Ari, youngest of six sisters in a most dysfunctional family is told slant — in language so poetic, so allusive, so enigmatic. . .” — Vicky Lane Mysteries blog
“Stunning — a really great novel full of enormously difficult life situations yet handled by an author blessed with a flair for language, poetics, insight, truly great characters and a kind of grace that defies description. A coming-of-age like no other. Don’t miss this!” — Sheryl Cotleur, buyer for Copperfield’s
“A tribute to the power of a child's imagination, The Clay Girl evokes the 60s era of sex and drugs in powerful, poetic prose in what could be the debut novel of the year.” — NOW Magazine
“Heather Tucker has created incredibly memorable characters here. Ari is bright from the beginning, even in such grimy circumstances, and her love of language rivals, maybe even exceeds, that of Anne Shirley herself. . . the language that takes us on the journey makes it a pleasant one, and Ari Appleton a most welcome travelling companion.” — Winnipeg Review
“Tucker has written a story about a girl who is fragmented and dissociated, and she has written it in Ari's voice — Ari, who sees the world in amorphous colour, in evanescent metaphor.” — Scene Magazine