Just Claire focuses on a 13-year-old protagonist who bears the burden of her mom’s depression. This is a difficult situation and I constantly felt the girl’s inner turmoil over the way-too-high expectations both her parents placed on her. I was amazed by Claire’s strength to take on the role of caring for her four younger siblings.
I had a number of issues with the book. First, I was distracted by some of Claire’s behavior: at the beginning she sounded much like an 8-year-old, but then later she said things like an adult would, such as that she would take care of the “kids,” instead of referring to them as siblings. The same goes for her 7-year-old brother. I also found myself confused by the era, and it wasn’t until about a third of the way in that I learned it’s the 1960s — I thought this should have been clearer much earlier. Another blurry point is Claire’s small stature, for which she is teased, but I didn’t understand how she felt about being 13 in sixth grade or why being in the Lavender Girls was so important to her, even though the girls were so rude to her and her friends. I felt these points needed a lot more “Claireifying”:). I was also confused when Claire was trying to convince the girls at school she’s not poor, for clearly she is. What really threw me was Claire’s mom Dotty’s very mean behavior toward Claire and how the dad said Dotty had “been emotional for years.” If so, how could Claire have never seen that before? This was the first time she felt hurt by her mother, so that fact contradicts a lot. I also couldn’t understand why the dad wasn’t protecting Claire from this and why he was placing so much responsibility on her. I felt the author expected us to just understand these things, but there were gaps that needed explaining.
Aside from these issues, the dialogue was one strength of the book. I was amazed by how steady the pacing was, too. Jean Ann Williams does a great job building tension between Claire and the girls at school and she uses precision to create believable conversations. The rural setting works well here too because it punctuates the impoverished living conditions and highlights Claire’s inner struggle. I also found delight in how Williams’ style seems similar to that of V.C. Andrews, specifically in her novel Heaven, where the character is forced into an unpleasant situation and faces mistreatment by others while still maintaining hope.