July Guest Reviewer: Margaret Rustin
Margaret Rustin is a child psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic, London, and the author of articles for Books for Keeps on the works of Hans Christian Andersen, Philip Pullman and Jacqueline Wilson and (with Michael Rustin) of Narratives of Love and Loss: Studies in Modern Children’s Fiction (Karnac Books).
A little boy’s mother dies; this book, written in the first person, recounts how he feels. Mother, he realises, said goodbye to him the day before she died, and he is old enough to understand that death is final. Living through the first days of ‘no mother there’ is what he records. His loss is his own; ‘For me, she died this morning’ the author writes, because it is waking to the absence of mother that is his experience of death. He is angry, with mother for leaving him and with father for not being her, burdened by the idea of having to look after father and even grandma, too, when she arrives. He clings desperately to the physicality of mother – her smell, the sound of her voice – and tries to lock them inside himself. Gradually, he begins to be aware of the mother inside him as a source of comfort he will not lose, and grandma’s understanding of this potential enables him to cry. Memories turn out to have the power to sustain rather than torment.
The scar on his knee from a fall is the metaphor for a heart which is marked but also able to be healed.
The red, black and white palate of the illustrations captures the stark internal world of the bereaved child and his quirky voice would enable a child reader to get close but feel safe in the story of a loss which can be survived.
A book to be recommended as much to adults facing a child’s grief as to the child himself.