Only Ever Always

Penni Russon
AUD $16.99
Availability: Print on demand

Does the world shape us, or do we shape the world? A suspenseful story of parallel realities - two girls in two worlds with two different ways to survive. 'Fascinating and absolutely memorable.' - Ursula Dubosarsky

WINNER: 2012 NSW Premier's Literary Awards, Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature

Who dreams the dreamer?

Claire lives in an ordinary world where everything is whole. But inside Claire is broken. The silvery notes of her music box allow her an escape from her grief into a dream-world, into Clara's world.

Clara's world has always been broken. She finds broken things to swap at the markets; she walks the treacherous route past the brown river where lone dogs prowl; she avoids the seamy side when she can, but with powerful people pulling the strings, it's not always possible.

Which world is real?

Claire's and Clara's paths are set to collide, and each has much to lose - or gain.

Original and poetic, this captivating novel explores dreams, grief, friendship and love through a brilliantly constructed dystopian fantasy world.

'Like the sound of the little loved music box that is so pivotal to the story, Penni Russon's Only Ever Always is both deeply touching and strangely eerie, leaving the reader with a mixture of warmth and apprehension, yearning and wonder - about death, life, language, art,dreams and childhood. Fascinating and absolutely memorable.' - Ursula Dubosarsky

Author bio:

Penni Russon was born in Hobart, and spent her childhood roaming around on a small mountain. Eventually she had to grow up, and she moved from Tasmania to Melbourne to study classics, archaeology, women's studies and contemporary literature. She writes, edits and teaches creative writing, and lives in outer Melbourne with her husband and three children.

Find out more about Penni at, or her blog

Category: Children's
ISBN: 9781741750447
Awards: Winner NSW Premier's Literary Awards, Ethel Turner Prize 2012 AU; Winner WA Premier's Book Awards, Young Adult 2012 AU; Commended CBCA Book of the Year, Older Readers 2012 AU; Winner Aurealis Awards, Young Adult 2011 AU
Publisher: A&U Children's
Imprint: A & U Children
Pub Date: August 2011
Page Extent: 180
Format: Paperback - B format
Age: 12 - 16
Subject: Children's, Teenage & educational

Teachers Notes

Teachers reviews

If a book has a recommendation by Ursula Dubosarsky on the cover, that’s good enough for me. I picked up this slim piece with a lot of eagerness. 
It’s a dreamy, stream of consciousness concoction that slips in and out of dream state, in and out of the perspectives of two girls (Claire and Clara) and in and out of the first and second person perspective. I wouldn’t recommend trying to read this in small grabs in your ten minutes while waiting for the bus and then the next five or six minutes in the queue at the supermarket, then the next few minutes in the ad break of your favourite reality tv show. If that’s the time you set aside for reading, this book will not have its impact on you. In fact, it’s very likely you’ll come away wondering what on earth you read, if you read anything at all.
But for those who can set aside good spaces of reading time to become immersed in this story (it’s not too long at just over 150 pages) then it’s a treat. The writing flows over you like cool water and the voices of the girls echo in your brain, bringing out the heartbreak in Clara’s life and the contrast in Claire’s world.
This is a story about dreams and reality, about love and devotion, about loss and living life. Claire seems like the normal one, who dreams and then there is Clara on the other side of the door whose desperate life forces her to seek out Claire’s world. It’s impossible not to feel for both of them.
An author’s note is worthwhile reading, revealing the inspiration for this book in childhood and musing about an alternate universe. It would well be worth discussing in class – the concept of alternate universes and what they might contain or mean to yourself. The idea has been explored in science fiction before where people have been able to move from universe to universe and affect different lives, and different theories have been postulated.
The themes of dreams and loss and reality are strong in this book, and would make excellent topics for discussion. The symbols or meanings of dreams and their significance, how people make decisions about loss (Clara with Andrew and the music box, for example) and cope with it, and the blurred line between reality and dreams. Claire says that she is the dreamer, but as she is told, they are as real as she. Or are they? If you were a “dream person”, how would you know that you were one and not the real person?
I found this a powerful and emotional story, but mostly I wanted to read it because of the evocative language. For such a short book, it certainly made its impact.
Rebecca Fung, NSW

This is a challenging and thought-provoking novel, although at 157 pages, it is not long.
Clara lives in a dystopian urban area where life is tough. She clings on to her dreams and hopes while struggling to find small scraps to trade for food. When she finds a broken musical box she feels a tremor of recognition, a feeling of “rightness” that it is hers. But it brings threats and frightening changes to her life as she deals with Dolores, the Lady and her minions. Clara has an affinity with a yellow mutt who watches over her and is supported by her beloved Andrew, who happens to be the Doctor’s favourite, and by the elusive Groom. I often found myself wondering how the society worked, but Russon doesn’t give the reader all the answers.
Claire on the other hand lives in a secure and affluent neighbourhood but her family is coping with the death of Uncle Charlie and the changes it brings within her family group. Claire has a musical box which had been given to her at birth by Uncle Charlie and which she is struggling to pass on to Charlie and Pia’s unborn baby. She meets a yellow dog whose presence changes Mum’s rigid attitude. Dreams are her way of escaping the grim reality of her life at the moment, and through them she meets Clara.
The two stories are linked by similarities and it is up to the reader to decide if they are versions of the same location, if it is a time-slip story or if it is just a dream. Do their worlds meet? Clara’s story is told in the third person vernacular but Claire’s, by contrast, is in the second person which gives it an immediacy for the reader.
For me, I would find it difficult to use this book in a mixed ability classroom, but it would make a great extension text and is sure to engender discussions. Many students are sure to love both the characters and their worlds. There are many challenges in its reading but also many rewards for the right reader. It would be a very useful text to illustrate the use of the second and third person and how these change the reader’s perceptions. The themes of the book are strong: family, grief, dreams, loyalty and dystopia. The alternate worlds have many common events and objects which have differing values.
Maureen Mann, TAS

Russon prepares the reader to find some aspects of this delightful exploration of dream and reality, other worlds and possibilities, emotionally difficult. The poem Doubts by Rupert Brooke, used as frontispiece, contains a sense of foreboding, the potential for sorrow and loss. I did find this emotional landscape in Penni Russon’s writing and yet from the opening sentence, I also felt a deep sense of delight at the use of language. By beginning within Claire’s recurring dream, the reader is brought fully into the ‘other’ life that increasingly we and Claire/Clara become aware of.
Russon’s technique of using Claire’s voice in a second person narrative, Clara’s in first person, as well as using the omniscient author’s voice, allows us to witness the ‘otherness’ of lives that fascinate Russon. It also allows us to reach another recognition, that as ‘dreamers’, we too shall each inevitably reach that ‘last ending that’s bound to come, somewhere in the white space between here and dreaming’.
Russon creates vivid sensory pictures of both the dream experience and the ‘real’ experience. The transition between is sickening in its physical difficulty and awareness of risk.
For an adult reader, Russon provides a thought provoking perspective on the pain and of the rewards of the power of dreams. For the young reader, there could be some challenges in coming to terms with the internal journey that Claire travels, as well as with the difficult life that the ‘dream’ Clara must live.
Helen Wilde, SA