Thursday, 18 September 2014

Blog Tour: Finding A Voice by Kim Hood (Children's, 11 years +, 10E/10E)

I well up now just seeing this cover
August 2014, The O'Brien Press, 240 pages, Paperback & Ebook, Review copy
Themes: friendship, school, being a carer, mental illness

Content: emotionally tough scenes, tissues most definitely needed

Summary from The O'Brien Press

Jo could never have guessed that the friendship she so desperately craves would come in the shape of a severely disabled boy. He can’t even speak. Maybe it is because he can’t speak that she finds herself telling him how difficult it is living with her eccentric, mentally fragile mother.

Behind Chris’ lopsided grin and gigantic blue wheelchair is a real person — with a sense of humour, a tremendous stubborn streak and a secret he has kept from everyone.
For a while it seems life may actually get better. But as Jo finds out just how terrible life is for Chris, and as her own life spirals out of control, she becomes desperate to change things for both of them. In a dramatic turn of events, Jo makes a decision that could end in tragedy.
This is the story of how an unusual friendship unlocks the words that neither knew they had.

Nayu's thoughts

This isn't a light fluffy read. It isn't totally dark either. It will, however, make you cry if you are prone to welling up over both positive and negative situations. (Look at me sounding grown up in how I describe being emotional!!!)

* Ahem * I wished so hard so often that Jo could speak out. I get frustrated by others like her who feel that they'll make the situation worse by asking for help, rather than better. By keeping quiet Jo has to harbour way more than most young people her own age do, she has to mature quickly and lose her precious childhood innocence. She doesn't lose the ability to smile, or laugh. True, there's a lot that she can't smile about, not with emotions all jumbled up as she tries to cover up her mum's deteriorating condition from everyone. She has to become adept at lying, which isn't a characteristic I encourage improving on. 
Thankfully Jo isn't always that good an actress, which is why she ends up befriending Chris. This was one of my favourite parts of the story. I loved how every aspect of life for anyone like Chris is examined from Jo's view, as it isn't always an easy life. People don't necessarily think of how challenging daily tasks which we all have to do are. Eating. Using the bathroom. Dressing. Jo sees all of these, and gets indignant on Chris's behalf. She does go a little crazy (yes, I'm aware of the words I'm using given that her mother is mentally unbalanced), and tries to make the impossible possible. That is why I try to read books like this in one sitting, so I don't have to stop partway through exciting bits. Although sometimes I should because I then have dinner late which, when you have 4x a day meds to take isn't the best idea... It lands her in terrible danger which had me holding my breath a lot, and the fallout from her mistake was hefty.

But, because of her lovable passion to make things 'better' for Chris, both his and Jo's own situation improve, getting the help they both need, as well as learning that friendship makes the rougher parts of life liveable. I hope that readers take away a lot, how being a carer can be caring for someone with physical disabilities (or whatever the politically correct term is these days) or someone with mental health issues. That social services aren't as evil as they can sometimes be seen, that most teachers want to help you in all aspects of your life. That everyone, no matter how different they seem, is human, and therefore should be treated with respect and seen as a possible friend from the moment you first meet them. I'm going to reread this book for sure – make sure you read it!

Find out more on Kim's website.

Suggested read

Another insightful book which has just been published & reviewed here on NRC looks at life from the eyes of a girl with Cystic Fibrosis, The Baking Life of Amelie Day by Vanessa Curtis (Children's, 9 years +, 10E/10E) 

What Inspired Me To Write Finding A Voice by Kim Hood 

Nayu here! I'll pass over to Kim shortly, I promise. It's truly a pleasure to find out a bit more about the background to this touching tale. I guess I have a mini soap-box stance because of my chronic illness I've been educated alongside people like Chris, and they truly are full of life, just like a fully healthy person, and having to deal with mental illness in a family or in a friendship scenario is mega hard. That's my say - now it's over to Kim! 

As a writer, every experience I have is possible material for a story. Every place I go is a possible setting; every quirky person I meet lends possible idiosyncrasies to future characters; every conversation is a chance to absorb turns of phrases that could be perfect on the page. So it isn’t surprising that characters with mental health issues and disability snuck into my first novel. I’ve spent twenty-five years immersed in teaching and supporting people with just such challenges.

What might surprise you is that I did not intend for either themes of mental health or disability to play any part in Finding a Voice. I’m not sure what I thought the book might be about when I started it. The first thing I imagined was Jo (the main character) stumbling through the woods, upset about…something. That is as clear as the story was!

However, when it did emerge that Jo’s mum had significant mental health challenges, it was easy for me to get to know that aspect of her. I wish I could say that there is a simple, fool proof way to treat mental illness, but for a great many people there just isn’t. I have supported people through crises that were very similar to the one Jo and her mother experience before her mum is hospitalised. It can be a scary, confusing time for everyone.

I do hope that readers see Jo’s mum as a whole person though, and not just someone with mental illness. I enjoyed writing her so much. She is exuberant and eccentric--my favourite kind of person!

While Jo’s mum evolved as I wrote, Chris, who happens to have cerebral palsy and is unable to walk or talk because of it, was inspired by a very specific event. More than twenty years before I started writing Finding a Voice, I was working at a camp for kids with disabilities. It was always a whirlwind of activity, and we often did not get all of the information about our campers that we needed. One of my campers had a disability like Chris, but I didn’t know that he usually had an electronic communication board; it was in for repairs while he was at camp. I spent the whole camp making choices for him (what to have for breakfast, what activities to do, etc.) and he spent the whole camp trying to tell me they were the wrong choices!

I can’t say much without spoilers, but that camper taught me everything I needed to know about making assumptions about people. He not only inspired the character of Chris, and a big part of the storyline, but he inspired me to listen to people with more than my ears.

I suppose that is the essence of this story—learning to listen as much as to speak up. Everyone needs to be heard, but some of us have a harder time finding a voice that people can understand. Listening without assuming is the first step to understanding .

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