This magical, insightful new novel by Aisha Bushby tells the story of Hazel, who has just moved from Kuwait to England and is staying with her great aunt in a fairy tale cottage until her parents arrive to join her. The anxiety and stress of change and separation trigger the return of the ominous fireflies that plagued Hazel as a younger child, taunting her with demands and challenges and leading her into repetitive and compulsive behaviours.
Readers of this sensitive, imaginative story will gradually realise that the fantasy elements, with dark forests and fireflies that torment with their never-ending tasks, are the author’s clever way of exploring and explaining the reality of living with anxiety and OCD and showing what it must feel like to struggle with compulsions and despair. Hazel makes a new friend, Ruby, at summer school where the project they work on is based on fairy tales. The author skilfully uses the fairy tale tropes of impossible tasks and repetition to explain what it is like to live with OCD and to give strategies to deal with the disorder.
This is a magical story which mingles reality and fantasy to show a girl struggling to control the terrifying creatures that lie in the shadows. Hazel is supported throughout by adults, including her teacher and her great aunt, who has her own way of dealing with similar issues, and by her new friend Ruby. The use of fairy tale imagery is highly effective, and the plot expertly maintains tension to keep readers guessing. This book is thought-provoking and shows great empathy and imagination in portraying mental health issues; it presents a positive focus on the importance of family and friends and on Hazel’s own strength in taking back control of her life.