This award willing author has written another affecting novella aimed at a teenage audience that is just as compelling as ‘Because of You’ – a book we also reviewed on this site .
Growing up in the shadow of alcohol addiction is an experience that far too many young people have to contend with and so it is important to reflect these difficulties in fictional material without being prurient or judgmental. The skill is in telling a story that presents the addiction and its repercussions as just one dimension of a young person’s background and complex personality.
With so many families having to live together in crowded circumstances as a result of the recent pandemic, I thought that the claustrophobic, noisy atmosphere of the little house must be a familiar experience for many young people. In this case, mum enjoys drowning her sorrows with accompanying booming music as Violet and Freddie are upstairs trying to concentrate on homework and get to sleep. The drinking has become a big problem since Freddie’s dad left:
‘When Steve left us, it was like a huge boulder had just hurtled through our home, leaving behind this massive hole’.
Violet is used to watching her mother drink too much as an escape from her worries which she usually describes as a reward for getting through a difficult day. But surely she doesn’t need to drink during the day as well? She keeps promising that she will get her life under better control but then slips back again and again. This scaling-up of the habit means that Violet is often expected to care for her younger brother, but she convinces herself that this is just a temporary blip in their lives. Rather like the dilemma faced by the main character in ‘The Illustrated Mum’ by Jacqueline Wilson, Violet loves her mother very much but is exasperated by her embarrassing behaviour and how she just doesn’t measure up to what good mothers are supposed to be. Her best school friend Ness is a good example of someone from a more ‘normal’ background so she is reluctant to confide in her. Should she continue to carry the burden or is it time to ask for help from her grandparents?
Her mother is clearly an extrovert personality who, on her better days, takes great pride in looking glamorous – which contrasts with Violet who is quiet, rather mousy and studious. When she has to take her little brother to school yet again because her mum is hung over, Violet is very anxious that she will get into trouble for being late. The school staff don’t seem to be very sensitive to her situation, which is hopefully not the case in the real world, although an increased focus on punctuality and attendance doesn’t bode well for children like her. There is room for plenty of classroom discussion here.
When the inevitable crisis comes, concerned grandparents and kind social workers eventually play their part in figuring out how to help the whole family. This is a story that doesn’t pull any punches in describing alcohol addiction and its consequences but also manages to stay upbeat – the author draws on a useful professional background in pastoral and child protection roles.
This is another gem from the publisher Barrington Stoke who always commission interesting stories that are carefully edited to ensure that they are accessible to emergent, reluctant and dyslexic readers.
This article was first published on the Letterpress Project website.