Summary: When her best friend Tanya moves to Australia for a year and doesn’t write, Carly is understandably upset. Missing Tanya but also her best friend’s family, Carly is surprised when the letter she finally receives tells her to get a life of her own and to stop trying to bogart Tanya’s mother. New neighbours distract Carly from the hurt she feels, as she finds herself offering to babysit the children of a single and neglectful mother. The experience brings up memories of her own mother who was institutionalized and died in a car accident, and Carly slowly starts to unravel her past as well as her true feelings about her childhood. With new self-awareness, Carly is able to go forward and take chances to be the person she wants to be.
Number of Pages: 223
Age Range: 14-16
Review: In Getting a Life by Jocelyn Shipley, Carly finds herself dealing with the death of her mother by attaching to Sally, her best friend Tanya’s mother. Sally is everything Carly imagines a good mother would be, and though she has limited memories of her own mother before she was institutionalized and died, she’s still left with a sense of wanting.
But this wanting is influenced by the fact that the friends in Carly’s life aren’t true friends. Though Tanya is away for a year in Australia, she writes Carly to tell her to get a life, and stop trying to take Sally’s attention. Hurt, Carly becomes friends with Dawn, a new neighbour, a friendship fuelled by Dawn’s need for free childcare, and Carly’s need to feel needed. It turns out to be yet another relationship where Carly is being used, only she doesn’t see it at first.
All is not lost though because Carly learns from her experiences. When she finds out her boyfriend, Andrew, is only dating her to make Tanya jealous, it takes her some time but she realises being with him is not worth her time. As the book progresses she remembers more about her mother, using her memories to fuel more conversations with her father about what life with her mother was actually like. Bleaker than she imagined, the truth is actually freeing as her self-awareness grows.
Throughout it all she takes care of Dawn’s younger sisters, Amber and Skye. Carly proves to be a loving caregiver and quickly grows to care for them. Faced with having to make a difficult decision about their well-being, Carly finds herself in a similar situation as her grandmother was when Carly’s mother had postpartum depression. Her choice changes things for the girls, but her journey along the way ends up giving her the life Tanya suggested she get, empowering Carly to fall in love and take chances.
I liked Shipley’s skilled character growth as Carly turns into a self-aware young woman who endeavours to make the best choices she can. When I realised Dawn and Andrew were using her, I was upset because although she may have been a bit obsessive with Tanya’s mother, she deserved more leeway and understanding than she got. Of course she was looking for connection to replace her missing mother/daughter relationship, especially because she was also dealing with distant family members.
The one part that did confuse me was Dawn’s ‘good’ father. He was mysterious, seeming to care about all of the girls even though he was only Dawn’s father, but still remote enough that he didn’t seem to realise how neglected the girls actually were. I wanted to know more about him, because ultimately I wasn’t sure living with him was going to solve the family’s problems.
By the end of Shipley’s book I had a great deal of empathy for Carly, and I was happy she finally had genuine people in her life to confide in and care about.
“‘Yeah,’ I say, ‘I do.’ After all, I’m supposed to be getting a life. And I want it to be my life, not Tanya’s or Dawn’s or Andrew’s.” – Carly from Getting a Life by Jocelyn Shipley, page 182
“But I’ll remember them forever.
I lie on my bed and think about that. How some people are part of your life for just a short time, but you know they’ll stay with you long after they’re gone. They’ll haunt you.
Dawn and Amber and Skye.
My mother.” – Carly from Getting a Life by Jocelyn Shipley, page 222