Bobby Seed has questions.
What’s another word for ‘thesaurus’? How can I tell Bel I want her as my girl friend, not my girlfriend? How much pain is mum in today? Has she taken her pills? And sometimes, secretly, Why us?
Bobby’s little brother Danny has questions too
Will Bobby let him have Rice Krispies for dinner? Can he stay up late on the computer! And why won’t Mum’s stupid illness just GO AWAY?
But it’s Mum’s question for Bobby that could turn everything on its head.
It’s the Big One. The Unthinkable One. If Bobby agreed, he won’t just be soothing her pain. He’ll be helping to end it.
Brian Conaghan was born and raised in the Scottish town of Coatbridge but now lives in Dublin. He has a Master if Letters in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. For many years Brian worked as a teacher and taught in Scotland, Italy and Ireland. His first YA novel for Bloomsbury, When Mr Dog Bites, was shortlisted for the 2015 Carnegie Medal, and his second, The Bombs That Bought Us Together, won the 2016 Costa Children’s Book Award. We Come Apart, a verse novel co-authored with Carnegie Medal winner Sarah Crossan, won the 2018 UKLA Book Award, and his fourth novel, The Weight of a Thousand Feathers, won the 2018 Irish Book Award for Teen & Young Adult Book of the Year. Now Available in paperback.
What I Thought
This is a fairly difficult review to write because I have quite conflicted thoughts about this book. It looks at a very controversial topic – assisted suicide/euthanasia – so it was always going to be an emotive read.
Bobby’s mum has Multiple Sclerosis (MS). This is a condition I am familiar with through my work and so this is perhaps where some of the difficulty I had with the book comes from. It’s like when my dad used to complain about London’s Burning because that wasn’t what real firefighting was like.
It’s not completely inaccurate of course, and everyone experiences MS in different ways, but this seemed like a overly sudden progression.
I really enjoyed the first half of the book. Bobby is 17 and classed as a young carer. His younger brother Danny also has undisclosed special needs so he looks after him too. Bobby’s teacher introduces him to a support group with other young people in the same situation. Much of this part of the book is about the connection he makes with the other people there. It reminds me a little of the group scenes in The Fault in Our Stars for that reason. There is some romance too. It was positive to see LGBT rep that wasn’t the main focus of the story too.
His mum asks a couple of big questions so don’t be fooled when the first isn’t the one indicated in the synopsis. My wish would have been a greater exploration about possible reasons for the first question.
School seems to drop off the radar for Bobby although it is his life outside that is the focus of this book.
My biggest difficulty I think is with how the euthanasia topic is handled and there are some quite shocking discussions and scenes around this. It definitely shows the need for a fuller discussion around this societally because there is a definite acknowledgement that young people should not have to be put in this situation.
And the ending was very abrupt. I don’t know if there are plans for a second book.
I did feel empathy towards Bobby and the scenes with his younger brother Danny were good. I liked their connection.
Personally I think I’m just maybe too close to this particular topic to read it completely as fiction.
Thanks to Ian and Bloomsbury for the gifted copy for the purposes of honest review.
So on Saturday I reviewed Letters to the Lost and whilst these two are companion novels you can definitely read More Than We Can Tell without having read the former. I loved them both so highly recommend picking the pair up to devour, and you will have the benefit of already knowing a bit about Rev’s past if you read LttL first.
When I started reading I initially thought that it was going to be very similar to the first book where much of the communication takes place via letter and then e-mail. And although texts and online forum communication features here too it is not between the main characters who actually meet face to face.
The first book dealt with loss. This book tackles some even heavier issues, such as child abuse, fostering and adoption, online bullying and misogynist gamer culture, and another topic I can’t mention without it being a spoiler.
Although Juliet and Declan from the first book feature, the former is very much only briefly mentioned and Declan is relegated to best friend status but is still his awesome self. I love the brotherly relationship between him and Rev.
But this book is time to really focus on Rev’s back story, the reason behind his uniform of a hoodie which leads to his nickname as the Grim Reaper. In the book he turns 18 and that means someone he’d never quite been able to forget sneaks back into his life.
Emma meanwhile has an online stalker slide into her DMs and hack into the popular game she herself developed. The only problem is she knows that gaming culture is like that for girls and her parents are too busy with their own thing, including her mum disapproving with how much time she spends on the computer so she doesn’t feel able to share.
It’s all too common for parents in YA fiction to be absent, and whilst our main characters do have some absent parents it’s nice to see the relationships with the parents they do have explored from all angles. Something that was started in the first book too. It’s particularly good to see such a positive relationship with adoptive parents whilst also showing the challenges that foster/adoptive parents face and the abuses that can sometimes occur with caregivers too.
The end of the book turns into a bit of a thriller and there is some violence that readers expecting a romance may not be expecting.
It’s really good to explore the concept of harassment happening in the context of ‘but that’s just how it is’ and to see teens challenging that and looking out for each other.
One topic that doesn’t get that much mention in books in religion and I thought Rev’s religious views were sensitively handled. Personally I don’t follow subscribe to organised religion, identifying more as a humanist agnostic. I thought the author did a really good job in presenting a balanced view whilst respecting the beliefs of her character.
I loved Letters to the Lost and I think I loved this powerful read a tiny bit more. Actually no I can’t decide. They are both ones I’ll read again.
About the author
Brigid Kemmerer is the author of Letters to the Lost and the YALSA nominated Elementals series and the paranormal mystery Thicker ThanWater. She was born in Omaha, Nebraska, though her parents quickly moved her all over the United States, from the desert in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to the lakeside in Cleveland, Ohio, with several stops in between. Brigid is now settled near Annapolis, Maryland, with her husband and children.
Huge thanks to Faye and Bloomsbury for my copy for review. I will treasure it and the opinions above are entirely my own.
Do check out the other two Bloomsbury Spring Titles – Truly, Wildly, Deeply by Jenny McLachlan and The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler.
On Wednesday I’m part of the Bloomsbury Spring Titles blog tour and I will be reviewing the follow up to Letters to the Lost – More Than We Can Tell. I’ve heard you can read the books as standalones but I’ve had the first book on my shelf for ages so wanted to pick that up first.
And I am very glad I did. Now I’m not a big romance reader with regards Adult Fiction but throw me some YA Contemporary Romance and I get the gushies. I find contemporaries so much quicker to read than the sci-fi/fantasy books I usually go for so I’d highly recommend if you’ve hit a bit of a slump and want a pacy and emotional read.
This romance is fairly complex. Juliet writes letters to her dead mother which she leaves on her grave. One day she gets a response to her letter – from a stranger.
At first she is so angry and, rightly so – her privacy has been violated. So she writes back telling the mysterious author what she thinks of them.
Soon the pair of them come to realise that the other person they are communicating with share similar feelings of loss and anguish and eventually they share e-mail addresses and start chatting about life, the universe and everything.
But little do they know that they’ve actually already met in real life, and they really don’t like each other.
Declan thinks Juliet is a preppy snob and he’s known as the school’s most likely to end up in prison, after all he’s already doing community service.
Author Bridget Kemmerer creates two troubled teens searching for meaning, finding it in each other but being scared to take that next step. As an occupational therapist I also liked how the author explored the meaning people find in doing valued occcupations and the loss they feel when they are prevented from taking part in them.
There’s a shock twist towards the end of the book that I can’t help but wonder how their relationship would play out if the author had chosen to pick the alternative. We would have needed a much longer story to play that out and I was satisfied with the ending but left pleased with the knowledge that we get to delve into Declan’s best friend Rev’s back story in the follow up. Come back on Wednesday for my stop on the blog tour to read what I thought about More Than We Can Tell and check out the other blood tour stops reviewing three of Bloomsbury’s Spring titles.