My Lovely Frankie: This is how you write about love

What is this about?: This is a story about Tom’s love for a boy he knew in the seminary growing up — Frankie. This is about religion, and bullies — be they teachers or students.

What else is this about?: I think this is about love, through and through. About the heartbreak of it, and how it persists through decades and loss.

Stars: 4/5

Blurb: A masterful, moving story about a teenage boy caught between faith and love, by one of Australia’s finest YA writers.

‘Frankie believed in Heaven quite literally, as if it was another lovely world out past the stars. And when he spoke the word “love”, it seemed to spring free and fly into the air like a beautiful balloon you wanted to run after. But I couldn’t tell my parents about Frankie, not properly. I told them I’d made friends with the boy in the room next to mine, and how he’d come from this little town out west. I couldn’t tell them how he was becoming the best thing in my world. I couldn’t tell anyone, I hardly admitted it to myself.’

In the 1950s, ‘entering’ the seminary was for ever, and young boys were gathered into the priesthood before they were old enough to know what they would lose. Tom went to St Finbar’s because he was looking for something more than the ordinary happiness of his home and school.

But then he discovered that being able to love another person was the most important thing of all. For Tom, loving Frankie made him part of the world. Even when Frankie was gone…

We meet Tom as an old man, retiring to the town where he grew up and met Frankie. Everything he does at this stage of his life is to live in the memory of his time with Frankie and Judith Clarke moves seamlessly from the present to the past in this section of My Lovely Frankie.

Reading about Tom, thinking about his past with Frankie broke my heart. Judith Clarke’s writing is filled with longing for Frankie, and my heart broke for Tom, and part of me didn’t want to know the rest of the story — and I set it aside for a couple of days.

I ventured in again, steeling myself for Tom’s palpable longing for Frankie and found myself immersed more in their time at the seminary. Tom is an onlooker, orbiting Frankie and reacting to him and his actions. It makes for a very slow book in some ways, but this book’s strength is in it’s characterisation — of Tom, Frankie and Etah, the boy who loved Frankie too and hated that he did.

Frankie is the sort of boy who will always be the centre of attention no matter what. He’s the boy everyone’s eyes will stray to, the one who will stand up to bullies — like Etah. He has been in the seminary for far too long, almost forgotten by his family I thought. Every boy fears him and it’s Tom who sees him for who he is.

As the book progressed, I got frustrated with Tom and the fact that he’s just there in some ways. But I can’t deny the emotional punch of this story, of Tom who never forgot Frankie, not even when he simply one day disappeared.

This book straddles the line between YA and adult fiction I think, and it’s hard to find a genre in which it belongs completely. But no matter what, this is a story about love above all else — with all the goodness and the heartache and ugliness of it as well.

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