County Clare author Kim Hood’s book, Finding a Voice, is short-listed for The Bookseller’s inaugural YA Book Prize. It is easy to see why: it is an excellent young adult novel.
This is a beautiful and moving story about the friendship between a thirteen-year-old girl who acts as an unofficial carer to her mother, and a fifteen-year-old young man with cerebral palsy who most other people assume is unable to understand what is happening around him.
Jo is fiercely independent and protective of her mother, who has a “non specific psychiatric illness”. She feels a misfit at school and longs for a friend with whom to do normal teenage stuff, but is stifled by having to constantly keep one step ahead of her mother to keep her calm and stable.
Her school psychologist suggests that instead of hiding away at lunchtimes Jo helps out in the Special Education unit of the school. Here she meets Chris, who despite – or perhaps because of – his seeming inability to communicate, she can talk to about what is happening at home in a way she can’t talk to anyone else. Gradually, though, she realises that Chris’s movements are not as involuntary as his other carers assume and she devises a method to enable them to communicate. Their friendship develops and as well as helping him at lunchtime, she acts as his aide in art class and even visits his community home, while he gives her a listening ear and sympathy. Meanwhile, her mother’s illness has steadily declined to the point she has to be hospitalised and Jo’s grandmother comes to stay.
Becoming frustrated with other people’s babying of Chris, and believing him to be unhappy (while not being able to recognise her own unhappiness), Jo spontaneously makes a decision that causes her to act out of character, with potentially disastrous results.
This is a very moving book and the subtitle, “Friendship is a two-way street”, entirely embodies the story. I could really empathise with Jo’s situation and Chris’s characterisation is superb. Both Jo’s mother’s mental health problems and Chris’s physical problems are portrayed very well, as are Jo’s monumental efforts to help them both.
The book has some valuable lessons for all of us, whatever our age: sometimes you can’t manage a situation yourself, and there is no shame in asking for help; sometimes you might not fit in, but hang in there until you find your place; don’t assume you can tell what a person is thinking or needs from you, or is defined by a mental or physical disability; you can find friendship in places you might never think of looking.
I recommend this book for older readers as well as teenagers.
Published by O’Brien Press, Dublin
Kenny’s (paperback €8.55; free postage worldwide)
Salmon Poetry, Ennistymon and many other bookshops in the county and elsewhere
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