What do you get when you combine a workaholic psychologist, a grandmother with an imaginary friend, an ax-wielding grandpa, and a noncommittal older brother who changes college majors like teenage girls change outfits? The Samson family, of course—the focus of Judith Clarke's 2006 novel One Whole and Perfect Day. And if you think your family is wild and crazy, you better sit back and fasten your seatbelt, because you're in for quite a ride.
One Whole and Perfect Day isn't a reality show, but it might as well be. The Samsons have it all: an ongoing family feud, an absent husband everyone hates, and clashes of iron will. They also have Lily, a sixteen-year-old girl who's really fed up with being the only "sensible one" in a sea of people with serious issues.
With her older brother, Lonnie, living away from home and her father out of the picture, Lily assumes the roles of cook, housekeeper, and peacemaker, but really, she just wants the stuff normal teenage girls want—you know, to not smell like dishwater, read girly magazines without thinking they're stupid, and have hot guys notice her. Sounds like MTV's next hit show to us.
However, if you think this book is just a bunch Lily moaning and groaning about her plight, then think again. Because in this book, we get to eavesdrop on her whole family, as well as few bonus characters. If being in all these people's heads sounds overwhelming, don't have a panic attack just yet. One Whole and Perfect Day actually presents a fascinating look at what causes problems within families, and why different people can have drastically different takes on events.
Family isn't the only big idea this novel deals with, though. It also touches on some pretty heavy subject matter—think: racism, divorce, loss of a parent, social class, and issues facing the elderly. As a result, Clarke isn't just writing about the conflicts within a single family; she's making a powerful point about the ways we choose to relate to people whom society considers to be different.
Lily may want one perfect day where the usual conflict and concerns don't touch her family… but isn't that what anyone who feels marginalized wants? In the end, One Whole and Perfect Day is about how relationships can triumph over these obstacles, and how acceptance of others can make things right again.
Let's be real here: At some point or another, you've probably been ashamed of your family. Maybe your mom's favorite hobby is showing off pictures of you in the bathtub as a baby, or your brother is so obsessed with The Lord of the Rings that he wears fake hobbit feet to school.
Or on a more serious note, maybe your family's been through some kind of a crisis—a divorce, sick relative, or loss that turned everything upside down. If you've ever felt like your family has kept you from having anything resembling a normal life, Lily Samson is your new fictional BFF.
Weird family members aren't the only thing you'll be able to relate to, though. Because Lily's in high school, there's plenty of typical teenage drama, too, complete with bullying, gossip, obsessions with appearances, and all the other lovely stuff the teen years are made of. And if you're a dude who's not too psyched about reading a book about a chick, don't despair—you'll find plenty to relate to in Lonnie, who broods over his future, can't seem to find his purpose in life, and has a crush on a girl.
In other words, when it comes down to it, One Whole and Perfect Day is about young people trying to find their way. Choosing a path for yourself, finding romance, having parents who just don't understand… who hasn't been through that?
One Whole and Perfect Day Study Questions
This handout from the Ipswich District Teacher Librarian Network features some thought-provoking questions to help you think about your own family relationships as they relate to the story.
Insightful information about Clarke's writing career, as well as other books of hers to check out.
Publisher's Weekly Review
A review of One Whole and Perfect Day focusing on character development and Clarke's intersecting storylines.
Students React to One Whole and Perfect Day
Want to know what the kids think? Check out this collection of reviews of the book written by students.
One Whole and Perfect Day Book Trailer
One student's creative and entertaining book trailer project.
Not only that, but get her thoughts on this book.
Michael L. Printz Awards Acceptance Speech
Clarke's acceptance speech for the Michael L. Printz award for young adult fiction for One Whole and Perfect Day.
One Whole and Perfect Day Audiobook Excerpt
Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook's presentation of the first chapter.
Pop's Old Neighborhood?
A picture of an Australian suburb much like the one Pop might have grown up in.
Next Stop, Lonnie's House
The train station stop at Toongabbie where Pop contemplates going to make up with his grandson.
Up in the Hills
The beautiful Blue Mountains in Katoomba, where Nan and Pop (and now possibly Sef) live.