A girl on the brink of young adulthood. A young woman on the edge of maturity, unsure of whether, or how, to take that next step. An overburdened adult who takes on responsibilities at an early age, because of circumstances or poor choices. Clever Girl is the story of all of these people, and all of these people are Stella.
The only child of a supposedly-widowed working mother in Bristol, England, Stella’s early years reflect her surroundings: small, and grey, with the devastation of the World War II bombs still evident two decades later. As she grows, we move full force into the colorful 1960s and ´70s, complete with sex, drugs, and tragic relationships. The ´80s and ´90s bring Stella more stability and self-reliance, with occasional forays back to her younger life.
Each chapter is a set piece, the story of a time or an event that is not necessarily connected with what came before, or what comes after; it takes a while for the reader, and Stella herself, to fit the pieces fit together and move forward without running away. Stella’s cleverness provides the unifying thread for these disparate images. For years she, and those around her, ignored or pushed it away, but ultimately she accepts her strength, to complete her education, to make conscious decisions about her future, and to fully integrate her own life with those around her.
Hadley deftly reflects the second half of the 20th century – the turbulent mid-century decades to the disaffected and self-centered ´70s and ´80s, and finally, the calmer 1990s – in both the narrative and her characters. Stella’s story is not so different from that of most of her readers, yet the intense images and polished prose serve to make it much more memorable than the average life.