The Clay Girl: A Novel by Heather TuckerThe Clay Girl: A Novel by Heather Tucker

The Clay Girl: A Novel

byHeather Tucker

Paperback | October 11, 2016

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A stunning and lyrical debut novel

A 2016 Indie Next and Indies Introduce Pick!

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.

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.
Title:The Clay Girl: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:352 pages, 5.5 × 8 × 0.87 inPublished:October 11, 2016Publisher:ECW PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1770413030

ISBN - 13:9781770413030

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from A writer to watch Heather Tucker has taken a bleak subject matter and crafted a beautiful story about the power of family, friendship and imagination. Her writing is incredible and Ari is a character I won't soon forget. This book deserves to be read widely. I can't wait to see what Tucker writes next. #plumreview
Date published: 2018-07-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Could Have Been Better... I’m giving The Clay Girl a 3/5. My reasoning is not because I didn’t like the book more the I liked it. From reading the summary of the book it really drew me in and I wanted to read it. I thought it would be interesting because of the summary. I started reading it and it was a good start and as I was continuing to read the book it got confusing. There were many things in this book that were confusing. Ari had many sisters and they all had J names and without a lot of knowledge or description of them. It was hard to remember each sister and the information about them. There were a lot of character in this book, of a character was in the first part and then in later part I would often forget about them until that point in the book and didn’t remember what had happened to them. I would have also liked to read more about his birth father”s background, her sisters and also her mother's background because I feel the book lacks that. I think it would have been interesting to see the parents childhoods to see if it reflects on how they behave as adults. The situations the author used were realist and those things happen to many people. The use of abuse in the story can be relatable to many people. Her imaginary friend, Jasper, was realistic because a lot of people had imaginary friends when they were younger. Someone who has had an imaginary friend may be able to remember that and they are able to connect to Ari though that. A lot of people can also connect to the abuse goes though and that’s realistic. A lot of people are abused in one way or another which makes people able to connect more with Ari or even her sisters. A lot of the time the book would switch years and places without saying so. And you wouldn’t notice until reading more into that chapter. Which can be confusing and the reader may feel completely lost and feel the need to have to re-read a chapter or two. If the author had used better transitions the book would have gotten a better rating. I believe the author had some really great idea for The Clay Girl But there was so much information and events that those ideas got lost in her writing. There are many plot changes throughout the book that aren’t all good for the book and even makes the book seem repetitive. If the book had been split up into more than one book it would have been a lot better. The characters could have been explored more, there would have been room for more events that could have helped the story become more enjoyable. My overall thoughts on this book is that it really could be better. I really enjoyed the start of the book and I wish the book had been like the start. Even though I am in between on if I like it more then I don’t, I would recommend this book to a friend. Something is always happening and a lot occurs in 347 pages the book contains.
Date published: 2018-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you love a book with strong heroines, then you will love Ari While this book has some tough subject matter, the characters are so beautiful and inspire such hope and strength in adversity, I literally could not put it down. Beautifully written by an obviously skilled writer, I highly recommend you bring Ari into your life!
Date published: 2018-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my fave reads of last year I purchased this book on kobo as it was on sale. It blew me away The most haunting story told with such heartbreaking beauty. I will purchase an actual copy and read and-read. Disturbing content, but definitely worth a venture.
Date published: 2018-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from BRILLIANT Falling in love with the Ari Appleton the main character of The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker The book is taking me in time through the Toronto landscape in the 1960s.. I was half way through and couldn't believe there was more! Ari Appleton is a survivor among survivors a beautiful character telling her story in the most poetic and magical way.. with all the serious content in this book it is told through a coping-like manner and Ari Appleton is breaking my heart the entire way. I will reread this, I will memorize this by heart.
Date published: 2017-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful, Dark and Totally Charming The book with the most heart and the most unforgettable little girl. My favourite book of the year, not to be dethroned. A must-read for the kid in everyone.
Date published: 2017-10-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a great book! It took me a bit to wade through the childish narrative at the beginning and it was totally worth it! I read 100 pages at a time, really hard to put down. You never really have an idea on what's going to happen to Ari - will it be good? will it be bad? Totally get the book - you won't be disappointed.
Date published: 2017-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spectacular! What word can I really use to describe The Clay Girl, other than, "spectacular"? Through the young, vibrant Ari Appleton, Heather Tucker takes you on a journey no one would ask to have, and all the while it shapes and strengthens you. You expect the pain to harden the characters' spirits as well as your own, but I became even more softened by it. Usually I can't help but lend incredible books to those I know will love them, but this one I will have to encourage everyone to buy for themselves, both because it's worth it, and because I can't see myself parting with my copy any time soon. There are more lessons to be learned, and, contrary to what the description may suggest, there is joy (and Joy) to be found on every page. I couldn't pick up The Clay Girl fast enough, and couldn't finish it slowly enough.
Date published: 2017-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing!!!! What a journey this book takes you on!! The author creates unforgettable characters (Ari, Ricky, Jake, Aunts M&N). You won't be able to put this book down
Date published: 2017-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome!! I loved this awesome book. The author, Heather Tucker, conveys a young girl's confusion and understanding so well on paper, it reminded me of many confusing events from my own childhood. This book shows us what a big impact you can make in a child's life, good or bad. I am doing a shout out to read this book!! You won't regret it!
Date published: 2017-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of THE best books I've read I first read The Clay Girl in September 2016. Heather Tucker has a certain way with words that grabs you and just doesn't let you go. The story of Ari is both devastating and uplifting. I laughed and I cried. Fast forward to June 2017. We chose this book for our book club so I decided to read it again to refresh myself on the characters and story. I loved it just as much, if not more, the second time around! A must read and an amazing choice for book club. I guarantee you will not regret the choice!
Date published: 2017-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging Read I loved this book. As my title suggests, it is an engaging story that makes the novel hard to put down. As well, Heather Tucker's writing is beautiful, making The Clay Girl a joy to read. I highly recommend this novel.
Date published: 2017-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Poignant story of beautiful Ari This was our latest bookclub book and I loved it. The characters were believable. Ari's story was sad and happy at the same time. Her aunts and teachers and friends helped her stay strong amid so much strife. I also loved that the book was set in Canada. I have recommended this book to everyone looking for a great read!
Date published: 2017-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful story with beautiful characters! Heather Tucker has written an amazing novel full of resiliency and hope. The Clay Girl was impossible to put down. Ari, is such an inspirational heroine...I can't wait to see where her next story takes her.
Date published: 2017-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best read in a long time, I loved this book! I have read over 100 books in the last year and this is the best by far. Heather Tucker really keeps you reading and cheering for Ari. The young girl who over comes hardship to live her life her own way. Love the poetry! 5 stars for sure, my book club girlfriends all loved also!
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Warning: This book is very hard to put down. This book is a beautiful story about finding beauty even in the darkest places. It made me fall in love with and cheer for Ari through all her struggles, and yet admire her ability to find light and beauty in the darkest of places. An amazing look at how the concept of family is not as finite as we often assume. In fact family is more about finding it and defining it for yourself.
Date published: 2017-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Must read! An inspiring story of a young girl who is facing an uphill battle to find happiness at every turn. The beautiful writing of this novel leads you to fall deeply into the story of Ari Appleton. Hoping this is not the end of Ari's story!
Date published: 2017-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved this book! The Clay Girl is the best novel I've read this year and in a long time! Beautifully written and hard to forget Ari Appleton, the main character!! A must read for sure!!
Date published: 2016-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This one's got "Giller" written all over it If you read one book this season, make it The Clay Girl. It's got "Giller" written all over it. By rights, Ari Appleton should be broken. Her sisters are. Instead of shattering, this ugly duckling in a family of swans brings light to the darkness. Like a tie-dyed Anne Shirley, she claims and redeems the kindred spirits she meets along the way. Heather Tucker has a fresh but groovy voice. She recreates the Toronto of my childhood with landmarks and language and psychedelic déjà vu. Breathtakingly tragic. Heartbreakingly beautiful. The Clay Girl is quite possibly the best literary novel I’ve ever read. It’s certainly my favourite.
Date published: 2016-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A must read! You won't want to put it down. This is a beautiful story that will draw you in and allow you to lose yourself in the characters. It's one of those novels that you never want to end because it's like losing a friend. The writing is thoughtful and exquisitely creative. A treasured find. I can't wait for another from this author.
Date published: 2016-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A book not to be missed The Clay Girl is one of the best novels I've read in some time. As an avid reader, I consume books a great deal, and every now and then, a rare, shining jewel comes along. The Clay Girl is one of these. Written so beautifully, one can't help but fall for the main character, Ari, as she struggles through a difficult and traumatic life as a child, and then as a teenager. Through Ari, we learn about strength, perseverance, and most of all, hope. Do yourself a favour and read this book, you will not be disappointed.
Date published: 2016-10-13

Read from the Book

ONEMy sister-house collapsed-again. Our aunties collected us up. St. Patrick's midnight bells shiver up my neck hairs. I quiet-step over my sleeping sisters, sneaking through Auntie Elsie's front door to the wishing sewer. Carved on the iron grate is 1953, the year I came out of the water and became a girl. I release one smooth stone, a wish. Pebble small, pebble white, let me stay here all my nights. Second stone carries a spell. Abra-can't-grab-ya, no beans can have ya. Third stone, an offering, a prayer. Oh, suffering children Lord, deliver us from Aunt Moral Corruption. Sacrifice swallowed. There, that's done it, Jasper. We'll be okay now. Back inside, I crawl into the spy cave, resting my cheek on a rug that smells like an old man's suit. Tires ringing over the grate snap me up. I peek through the curtains. A car marked POLICE MONTRÉAL creeps like a panther against the curb. Bleedin' Jesus, they're back. Auntie's slippers slap down the hall to the knock. Boots, big as tool boxes, step in, crushing the blue flowers on the runner. "Just checking everything's settled, ma'am." "Their mother is at St. Mary's and we've made arrangements for the girls." "You hear of these things, but you never think . . . Hope things improve." "Well, they can't get worse." Hear that, Jasper? No worses. We're staying.In the kitchen Auntie hums "Joyful, Joyful" and motes swirl on the sunstream like they know the words by heart.Sister number one skedaddles out the front door and into Scotty Davenport's convertible.I duck when Reverend Lowry swoops in like an angry owl, snatching sisters two and three, walloping them with a prayer before leaving, "And for these lambs, so scarred by man's depravity, give strength and travelling mercies. Amen and amen."Down the path they go, shoulders freshly loaded with the sins of our father who aren't in heaven.Aunt Dolores pulls into the empty spot by the curb. Sister four bounces away. "Hey, Auntie Dee, you get the pick of the Appleton tree." Sister five slips out the back door without making a sound.Mr. Whiskers chases rainbows sprinkled on the rug from the fancy vase. Look, Jasper, a sign, like when the Almighty delivered Noah.Tell me the boat story, Hari.Um, one night, a slice of moon fell into the ocean. Kangaroos welcomed us aboard Jasper's Jewel. We sailed to Kentucky where all the reindeer wore blue sweaters and- "Hariet." Aunt Elsie tilts the green velvet chair. "Come on out, now. Mrs. MacLaren is here. Where's your coat?" "At the MacLaren's. Under Jinxie's head." "It's near freezing today." A grey sweater is sacrificed from the back of the closet. "You know, we wish we could keep you, too, but one is all we can manage and Jennah needs to be near her job." Auntie's pretty fingers triple roll the sleeves. "There, how's that?"The wool is the prickly kind. "Spectacular, Auntie." At the train station I wait where I've been told to stay put. I can't see the dragon's tail, but a worrisome blackness puffs from nose to middle. Cripes, Jasper, it's coughing like Grandpa before he went to meet his baker. Riding a red-nosed dragon train to the ocean twists Jasper with excitement. I shove him down. You forgetting the horrification waiting at the end? Indescriptable acts upon my person, that's what. Mrs. MacLaren comes hurrying down the platform with the ticket and takes me by the hand to feed me to the dragon. "Up you get." The step is half as high as me, which would be no trouble except for the situation under my dress. "Come on, Hariet, you're too heavy for lifting." I oblige, hoisting up my eight years of flesh and bone. "Good Lord, child, where are your panties?""Jory got the last ones." One thing learned being smallest of six: you get what you get and most times you don't.She sacrifices fifty cents. "No time now. If you see a five-and-dime could you manage to buy a pair?" If I can travel my lone self from Montreal to Halifax to Sydney, I can buy underwears. They'll be pink . . . no, green, with little flowers. "Mrs. MacLaren?""Yes?"A salt-moon winks on my scuffy shoe as I tap the metal step like a world famous rocket dancer. "Spit it out.""Is Daddy in a whale like Jonah?""He's where he can't hurt anyone ever again.""But what if his going hurts in my belly?""Just drink some warm milk and you'll be fine.""Mrs. MacLaren?""What is it now?""Jinxie likes her white ear scratched best.""Soon as your mummy is on her feet you'll be back scratching her ear yourself. Off you go now and find a seat."I can read so I know the brass-buttoned ticket-puncher is William. Jasper quivers in my pocket. Don't be scared. Mr. Brassbuttons is just a walrus with a fancy biscuit tin on his head."Ticket, miss." I dig inside Grandma's broke-strap carryall, past my swirl-coloured ball, Jasper's matchbox bed, toothbrush, bottle of hero ashes, and mittens that Grandma knit, to reach the ticket. "Quite the journey you're taking. Someone meeting you in Halifax?""No. My Auntie Moral Corruption is collecting me in Sydney.""Who?""After my sisters got doled out she was the only one left." I heave the God-have-mercy load off my chest. "Beans. There's big trouble with them.""There's no trouble in beans, little miss. Settle in. You've a long haul ahead, but there's nothing like October pictures from a train to pass the miles." Walruses have lovely whiskers and a lot of goodness tucked in their folds. I push back the stress-curls forever jouncing out of my braids. "You got kids?""Three little misses and a mister."Well, there's a universe of a letdown, Jasper. He won't be wanting another miss. A stop brings travelers hurrying for seats. A green-suited badger. A silky Siamese, her parfum d'lilac tail brushing noses down the aisle. A plaid-vested beaver risks sitting with a half-dressed Hariet. Not that the lady has big teeth, she's just the busy kind that thought to pack a good lunch, plus she knows about dams, and that too many paper cones of water has me at bursting. "Come on, little dearie, facilities are this way."I've never had anything so shocked with tongue pleasers as what Mrs. Beaver stuffed between two pieces of bread. "Thanks, lady, this is spectacular.""And where are you from?""The sister-house is where I live most the time.""Like a convent?""Nothing like. There're no grey nuns with rulers. In my sister-house, June makes the walls. Jory is the roof. Jillianne is the floor. Jennah, she's the windows, fluttery with lacey curtains. And Jacquie is the yellow door. And Jasper and me tuck ourselves safe inside and tell stories.""Well, yes. I'm sure you do." She licks her hankie and swipes mustard from my cheek. "You're awfully little to be travelling on your own.""My mummy's sick with a conniption. Auntie Elsie's keeping Jennah. Grandma's puttin' up with June and Jacquie. Auntie Dolores nabbed Jory. Jillianne and my dog are with Mrs. MacLaren. But Jasper's come along with me.""Jasper your brother?""No, ma'am, my seahorse.""Let me guess, your name is Jane or Jessie?""I was a hoped-for Joshua. Everyone said with another girl my daddy had a string of jewels.""Ah, so it's Jewel.""No, Hariet. A one r Hariet. Mummy messed up the papers on account of I used up her neverlasting nerve.""Bet your father is Harold then.""No, Vincent." "And where is he?""Um . . . incarcerated in a Turkey prison.""Why?""For . . . poaching tigers.""Really?"Don't tell he put a bustard in Jacquie's oven or we won't get another brownie."What really happened is . . . this flash tidal wave reared up and he drowned trying to save my dog who fell into the vast Saint Lawrence. Jinxie washed ashore downriver but a giant otter dragged Vincent out to sea."A consoling brownie lands in my hand. "And where will you be staying?""With Auntie Mary Catherine and her lady friend. They eat little girls like bean burritos, but everyone else was already too full up with me. You got kids?" Mrs. Beaver opens a photographic accordion of kids dancing ballet and blowing at birthday candles. The pictures make a grey-socked, one r'd Hariet wish she hadn't swallowed the second brownie."Let's get you comfy for the night." William Walrus makes a bed on two seats with sheets that don't smell a bit of piss or snot and a pillow so feather-puffed a thousand eider-ducks must be naked somewhere. He gives me three digestives and warm milk. On the strawberry side of his chocolaty hand he writes: 1961. "You know what this is, little miss?""The year of our Lord?""Watch old William's hand." He turns it right around. "See? The whole world can get turned upside down and this year still lands right. There's good ahead. Old William sees it.""You see a store to buy underwears for fifty cents?" "There's an hour between trains tomorrow and I know just the place. Hunker down this way so you'll see the sky when you wake."When riding a dragon, chomp-chomp, chomp-chomp, chomp-chomping away the miles from where you came there's nothing nicer than a walrus singing, "There's a place for you, somewhere a place for you. Peace and quiet and underwears. Take my hand and we'll buy a pair . . ."Mrs. Kramer of Kramer's General Store is a hen clucking over my circumstances. My new panties are white with a tiny pink flower and a green bow so I get everything I ever wanted. "Lord a tunder, darlin', Sydney's too cold this time a year for bare legs. On with these woolies." She snaps me into tights like Dr. Herbert takes to a glove. It'd be nice living with a wing-over-the-shoulder hen. "You got kids, Mrs. Kramer?""Comin' out my ears.""Oh." I hold up the fifty cents. "I can special deliver the rest once I get settled."She plucks a quarter. "This'll do it, with change for a sweet."William Walrus tucks a wrapped sandwich into my carryall. "This train will take you right to Sydney."I hug him big. "Thank you, mister. It's been spectacular knowing you.""Hang onto that little fellow riding with you.""Jasper?""He'll lead you to your heart's double." He buttons my sweater. "And your true home."With my bum snugged into blue woolies I'm set for anything, even the devil herself. Binocular-eyed, I search for a wolf or a serpent. "Hello, sweetheart." She sneaks up from behind. "I'm Mary. Just look how you've grown." She's transfigurated into a gentle-Jesus-sweet-'n-mild getup, but Hariet Appleton knows about the snake hiding under the little sweetheart. "Under this sweater I'm scrawnier than a starving weasel. Dr. Herbert says there's not much on me worth eating, and for certain I'd give a body heartburn.""Is your trunk inside?""Wasn't much for bringing.""You're shivering. Come on, there's a blanket in the truck." No matter how hard I swallow, my bally lunch scrambles up, landing a whisker away from Auntie's red shoe. "You're safe here, I promise." She offers a tissue. "Come meet your cousins.""You've got kids?"Three exuberant mutts leap from the truck. "This is Hoover, Cork, and Wabi-sabi.""Can I ride in back with them?""The road can be a little bump-and-throw, but Wabi loves a lap up front. Let me get a bucket in case your tummy ups it again." She moves butterfly-over-flower quiet. A fat rope of hair hangs to her bum and the escaping curls are more like a party than a stress. "If you're my mummy's big sister how come you're younger?""Your mummy's had a lot of hard things." Wabi has one ear up and white splotches like paint spilled on her black fur. "Could she ever sleep with me?""She'll have your bed warmed before you climb in." I sometimes wondered where Mummy's smile went and here it is on Auntie Mary Catherine's face. On the long drive, Jasper wraps his tail around an escaping curl and near unscrews my head from its connecter. Look, over there. Mmm, smell that. Oh, what's that?"You okay, Hariet?""You grow jewels here?""You're seeing the sun on the ocean. Just so happens it's in our backyard."Up ahead, a painted roof on a fat grey barn looks like the tin has been peeled back to let fish swim in the sky. Oh, don't you wish we could live there? Like the god-listeners hear us the truck turns into the lane. A stone-faced house with two big window eyes says hello. Jasper's nose squishes against the windsheild. Look, it has a yellow door."Well, here we are.""It's . . . it's like the sister-house.""Where's that?" "Inside the locked room."She hushes my hair like she knows everything about outsides and ins. Jasper, there's a pot boiling somewhere, sure as sure.TWOI wait, like Gretel, for the beanwitches to pitch me into the oven. Fourth morning, first light, Auntie's friend, Nia, comes for me. She's a polar bear, all tall and silky white. "Hariet, come meet my friends."Jasper bows his head. Our father who harps in heaven . . . "Here, put on my sweater." Forgive us our messes . . . "Be very quiet." Yea though I walk to the belly of-Bambis?Outside the back door, Bambis gather. Auntie Mary is the mother deer, offering apples, and quiet-like they take them from her hand. Long grass glitters all fairy feathers and the ocean looks like the dragon dropped his whole treasure load. Hariet Appleton lives with a polar bear and a deer in a house that smells like Christmas at Mrs. MacLaren's. "Do you have kids, Auntie Nia?""No, but I always wanted a little girl.""To eat like a bean burrito?""Just to teach her things I know. Have her teach me back.""Could you teach me to feed the deer?"An apple slice smiles into my open hand. "Walk slow to them. If they startle and run, just joy in watching. They'll come back."Auntie Nia spreads out Scrabble squares. "You keep working and by January you'll be ahead of all the grade threes." "Jacquie's the smartest Appleton. I'm dirt stupid.""Watch your mouth, you hear. You're clay, not dirt." Auntie Mary pulls cookies from the oven. "One cookie for three words."I spell: SEAHORSE, JASPER, MARY, NIA, INX. "You want two cookies, do you?""I want another J for Jinx. You have nice names.""My given name is Eugenia. Always hated it. Mary found me Nia. It means shining purpose."Oh . . . a silvery dolphin. "Could you find one for me, Auntie Mary?"She mixes HARIET tiles. "How about RITA?""What does it mean?"She checks a big book. "Pearl.""That's nice, I guess." Jasper pokes, Oyster insides aren't near as good as shiny dolphins."Well, merciful heavens, look what's been hiding in your name all along." She spells A-R-I. "It means lion. It can also mean eagle." She lifts my chin. "Ari Lioneagle. Suits you."Pleasant Cove's grade three/four teacher has paint splatters on her white runners and hair bursting wind-happy red. "Mrs. Brown," says Auntie Mary, "this is my niece, Ari.""Well, aren't you a bright penny.""Your turkeys are spectacular.""Pardon?" I point to the apple turkeys with marshmallow heads lining the windowsill. "So happens, I'm one short." She plunks me down with supplies. "Trace your hand on the paper then cut it out."They walk to the door for some shushed-up hallway talk. Mrs. Brown comes back, situating her bottom into a chair. "Your auntie will be back at three thirty. How about you and I get to know each other before the others arrive. What were you learning at your old school?""Well . . . I didn't have much time for regular school 'cause . . . I was in Siberia hunting pandas.""And did you catch any?""No, ma'am. They're good hiders.""So what did you do?""Well . . . my daddy got sick with frostbite so I captured some wild huskies and made a sled out of a crashed airplane door and mushed him across the tundra to a hospital in Mexico."Mrs. Brown snatches me from my chair like a lizard takes a fly. "Glory beaver, you're a story weaver." Her chest clouds under my cheek. Jasper, look at all her goodness poking out the sides of the chair.My stick loops in the water, churning out sister-mail. Dearest Jennah, June, Jacquie, Jory, and Jillianne: Moral Corruption is turning out to be a stupendous place to wait out the glorious revampment of the Appletons. I've got a job earning a whole dollar a week collecting shore treasures with my best-ever friend Sadie O'Shaughnessy. The aunties' old barn is a skyfish gallery, where driftwood becomes mystical beings with sea-glass eyes and red dirt changes into turtles swimming from the sides of shiny pots. There's more musical wonder here than at the First Pentecostal on Hallelujah-Jesus-is-Risen Sunday. Huey and Jake fiddle and have me clogging out the Lioneagle dance. It all sets a body wondering why the Almighty is so spit-faced mad at the aunties for the less beans horrification.Sadie settles on the rock beside me. "Sending story waves to your sisters again?" "Yeah." I open my hand in the little rock pool. "Have a swim, Jasper.""Jasper's magic, ain't that right, Ari? Can he rides in my pocket for a while?" Sadie knows about pocket friends. She lives two plots over with Huey Butters and his Missus. Huey and the Missus go together like a strong mast and a fat-bottomed boat, a perfect pair for stormy seas. Sadie told me they had a son never returned from war, one lost to the sea, and a wee girl buried in the churchyard. The Butters' house is filled with a half-dozen of other people's kids. Sadie says it's the best place she's ever stayed and, like me, she's stayed around a lot. Day's end lands me in a forest-scented room where logs sleeping one atop the other make my walls. The ocean hush, hush, hushes up over the cliff, sneaking along the grass, through the window and into my breath. I wonder if the dragon hid me inside his mountain and no one knows where I am. Not that I want to be found, just maybe wanting to know that some persons notice I'm missing. Auntie Nia asks, "Having trouble sleeping?" I say yes because that brings honey-vanilla chamomile tea and a story about Ari Lioneagle's adventuring. Then, a whispered prayer, you're a treasure girl, and nothing that anybody did, nothing that happened was ever your fault. "Is there a God of our Mothers?"Auntie Nia sparkles in the moonspill from the window. "Of course. You've seen her breath on the morning grass." She unburies my face from its stressload of hair. "Sleep now.""Auntie, walruses know secrets.""Aye, they do. Listen and they'll whisper you to dreams."Auntie Nia makes clattery kitchen noise to let me know I'm welcome on the morning hunt. She says I've an eye for the creatures hiding in the driftwood that the sea ladies leave for us overnight. "Does the sun's mother yell at him for spilling all this colour?"Her pale eyes soak up the rainbows filling the new-day ocean. "It's her who kicks him out of bed saying, 'Make me another pretty picture.'""The sun has a nice mother, eh." I push up a smooth curve of wood, taller than me. "Look, a dancing porpoise.""Is there any better find to start the day? Let's go spill some colour on it." Back at Skyfish, Auntie Nia sets to coaxing an ocean fairy out of an arch of driftwood with sandpapery hands, two Band-Aids covering yesterday's nicks.Mummy's hands were like the row of pink pencil crayons at Ted's Hobby Shop, sharp and perfect. Jasper rides the turn of Auntie Mary's wheel as her mucky hands birth a pot. The clay bits she trims away are mine. Sometimes a fat chunk, like an extra serving of cake, drops my way and Auntie winks. It feels live-earth as I pat it flat. I make stars or moons or suns with tin cutters, fancying them up with pearly shell bits, sea-smoothed glass and glazes. Auntie tucks them in the kiln whenever there's room and you just never know what surprises will come out. Big mitts protect her hands as she lifts out a tray. "Your pots are spectacular, Auntie."Nia says, "Because Mary knows the clay has the spirit of a child in it.""Like a ghost?""No, it's mouldable, a ball of possibilities. And clay absorbs water, same as you soaking up everything in your path. And with a little added grit, but not too much, the clay becomes stronger.""Will you teach me?" "After this order is shipped, we'll start lessons. You're going to make a great potter."Yellow balloons float from my belly to my heart. "Really?""Look at these." Mary shuffles the bits on a tray. "They're pretty enough to sell. What are you going to do with them?""They're for my birthday. I'm just waiting on something from Huey."I unpocket the agreed-upon dollar for twelve brass rings and fishing line. Huey pushes back my hand. "No need, dolly. I got the materials for free. It just took a little bend and solder."Mrs. Butters snatches up the dollar, tucking it between her sugar-sack mammers. "Now, girlie, what's you a doin'?""Making presents. Auntie Mary read me The Hobbit. They give gifts on their birthdays." Before the clock reaches bedtime, twelve chimes hang from the rafters. They tinkle fairy-like when the oldest foster, Jake, opens the door, all tired and fish-soaked. He looks up. "That's a pretty sound to come home to." He loads a bowl with down-home stew and opens a homework book. Music always taps in his foot and sweetness stirs in his butterscotch eyes. Jasper says I'll marry him when I'm filled out as beautiful as Jennah. He looks up from his book. "Come out on the boat Saturday, if you like. I'll show you a family of pilots.""Won't they be drowned by then?"His cheeks pink like raspberry ice cream. "They're a kind of whale.""Do they fly?""In their own way." Mrs. Butters' busy hands turn out a warm sock. "Huey will see you safe home, now." Sadie takes one hand and Huey the other and we set sail. The big night speaks in rustles and hoots asking for a song to light the road home and we oblige.Her eyes they shone like the diamondsYou'd think she was queen of the landAnd her hair hung over her shouldertied up with a black velvet band

Editorial Reviews

"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"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"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"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 Toronto"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"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 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)"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"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"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 at Copperfield's "?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, buyer at Book Passage "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"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 "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 "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)