Polly’s article was originally published in EPrivateClient and can be accessed here.
Hunters Book Review: Shades of Scarlet by Anne Fine
A tween’s guide to navigating divorce (for tweens and their parents)
From a family lawyer and founder of Hunters Book Group
The beginning of a new year has long been said to be the time when many marriages come to an end, with the first Monday of January being dubbed “divorce day”. But whilst individuals or their ex-partners may have already worked through or started to come to terms with the emotional process over the following weeks, at what point should they talk to their children about the divorce and how should they explain it? As a family lawyer, clients often ask for advice on how to discuss separation with their children. One option that might be suggested is giving children books with relatable characters and stories, to assist them in navigating what is often a challenging time.
Whilst there are lots of books for young children on the market, Anne Fine’s book Shades of Scarlet, due for publication in paperback this month, is written for a “tweenage” (aged 9-13) audience. This is an age where children are often becoming more socially aware and risk being relied upon by their parents to assist as a shoulder to cry on but also when emotions are running high. Tweens may not show obvious signs that they are struggling and need an outlet for the thoughts and feelings whirling in their heads.
I was impressed with the topics included in this book. There was a realistic portrayal of coparenting and the transition from one family home to two, and what moving between homes might look like. Scarlet had new step-parents to contend with when she finds out at school that her mother is dating the uncle of a boy in her class and her father falls for the woman in the DIY store they buy paint from to decorate the family home. There is also the potential of new baby siblings and older step-brothers thrown into the mix. Even the more complex aspects of relationship breakdowns find their way into the factual matrix of the story. The notion of the equal division of assets on divorce and the lack of financial security that cohabitation might present were both approached in a tween friendly and digestible manner.
Fine’s use of language reflects a modern, constructive approach to separation. There is no mention of the outdated term “custody”, or indeed any of the adversarial language often present in mainstream literature and media outlets, which has become the bugbear of many family lawyers and prompted the recently launched Family Law Language Project which aims to reframe the vocabulary around family proceedings.
In navigating Scarlet’s family breakup nothing is off limits. We follow her story as she writes about her experiences keeping secrets her parents think she is too young to handle, feeling responsibility for her parents’ happiness as an only child, and how she copes with her parents inappropriately venting to her. Scarlet is able to process all that is happening and establish boundaries, serving as an excellent role model for young readers.
Whilst we see Scarlet, at times, longing for her parents to get back together, by the end she reflects on whether she has grown from her experience. She can recognise not only the importance of communication but also the benefit of keeping some conversations with each individual parent private.
At the beginning of the book, Scarlet’s mother gifts Scarlet a notebook as a coping mechanism so she can write down her “worries, and irritations and hopes for the future”. By the end of the book, Scarlet has returned the notebook to her mother, saying she doesn’t need it anymore but thinks her mother does. I suspect the same may be said about this book – it may be as helpful to parents seeking an insight into the impact of separation on tweens, as it is to the tweens themselves.