Published by O'Brien Press on August 11th 2014
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.
It’s not often these days that I am so enamoured with a book that I read it in one sitting and little did I know when I sat in the garden, one sunny Tuesday afternoon, and got up three hours later with a pretty numb backside and a sunburnt nose, that FINDING A VOICE would be that book. Beautifully written, heart-wrenching prose, honest and fragile characters and a touching story makes for one very special read.
Jo is a thirteen year old girl with a lot on her plate. Dealing with a mother who suffers from severe depression whilst living under the self-imposed guilt that reaching out for help will do more harm than good, it is not surprising that she wants to escape. While other girls have friends to confide in, the stigma of mental illness has ensured Jo is left alone every recess. It’s utterly heartbreaking to be inside Jo’s head as she scrambles to keep her and her mother’s lives on track. When Jo is asked to tea by the new girl in school, she thinks finally this year will be different. When it triggers a particularly violent and frightening episode for her mother, the whispers and stares at school are the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Accepting an invitation from the school counsellor to volunteer in the special education block as a means of “escape” brings her into contact with Chris, a teen with cerebral palsy, thought to have severe learning and cognitive abilities. Through their art lessons and lunch hours, Jo and Chris find a peace and friendship and a life neither thought was possible.
Jo’s situation is sadly not unique and this book provides a valuable insight into the life of so many children thrust into the role of carer. It’s a lonely existence and I really felt for Jo, living each day under the threat of the darkest of storms, never knowing if this will be the day she won’t be able to cope, and the bitter-sweet moments when her mother’s lucidity allows Jo to fall back into the welcome position of child instead of parent. It was heartbreaking to watch not only Jo but her mother, trapped by her own mind, living with the guilt that she couldn’t be the parent she desperately wanted to be for her daughter. Even now the emotion conveyed and the love between the two brings tears to my eyes as I write this review.
When Jo meets Chris, the friendship that builds between them reminds us of just how special and unique human beings are at finding connections and ways to communicate despite adversity. I loved how despite Jo’s belief that she was helping Chris how over time his special ability to give unspoken support to her provided a comfort she lacked from others. The breakthrough as they learn to communicate and find each other’s voice is a lesson to us all – a lesson to “Look Up”; to make eye contact and truly listen to each other.
This was such a special book and resonated with me on so many levels. Kim Hood’s easy style of writing allows the emotion to shine through and enables the reader to really connect with the characters. The pacing flowed well and kept me engaged with the story which was so sweet and honest, it made my heart ache for Jo and Chris.
A story about friendship and unwavering hope, FINDING A VOICE is a book that will stay with you long after you’ve finished- touching and tender, it will make you laugh and cry and believe in the beauty of the bonds of humanity. Perfect for fans of Gayle Forman and John Green – Highly recommend.