My dad can fix anything.
It’s what dad’s do.
Dad can fix anything. He’s handy with a hammer and nails, sticky tape and glue and even with making peach tea and cupcakes. But when mum dies, Dad and daughter find that sticky tape and super glue are not enough – they need a special kind of fix-it, in the form of love.
The Fix-It man is a heart warming story of the bond between a father and young daughter, exploring the impact of the loss of a parent in a gentle manner. It is dad who keeps the house running while Mum is sick, with gentle humour and persistence, but it is the daughter who, in the midst of her own grief, reaches out to Dad. Together they start to put their lives back together, surrounded with gentle reminders of Mum.
This is a difficult topic for a children’s book – which is why it is so important. Powell’s text gives just enough detail, without over explaining or analysing what is happening, and Johnston’s illustrations are gently whimsical. A grey scale illustration at the darkest point of the book is particularly poignant, with no need for text to show how the pair cope with their loss.
A wonderful book for exploring themes of bereavement.
The Fix-It man, by Dimity Powell & Nicky Johnston
EK Books, 2017
This time it would work. She would lose the weight in tome for her birthday. And maybe she’d say yes yo that holiday in Thailand Sean was always nagging her about. Tomorrow she would start on the readiness tasks she was supposed to do before Monday when the program kicked off. But tonight she may as well finish off the rest of these chocolates. After all, the first task was to rid the house of any tempting foods.
Four women who have never met in person connect through an online forum. They are all very different: one is a young mother, with a rocky relationship and no family support. Another is happily married and a successful businesswoman, but longs for a child. A third has it all – career, children and a happy marriage. The fourth has moved backwards in her career to be closer to her lover. What connects these very different women is that they are all very overweight, and have joined the forum in a desperate attempt to lose weight. At first online and, later, in person, they become friends and support each other through times much harder any of them could have imagined.
The Shape of Us is a story about friendship. Though weight loss (or the desire to lose weight) is what brings the friends together, they connect and support each other in many different ways, and weight becomes almost a background issue. The use of a blend of third person narrative and blog entries from the perspectives of all four women is an unusual and effective means of getting inside each character’s lives and emotions.
Although weight loss ceases to be the overriding issue of the book, the differing weight loss experiences of the characters, as well as their experiences surrounding being overweight, is an intriguing premise for a book. Issues of family support, body image, infertility, surgical intervention and more are explored.
At heart, though, this is about the bonds which bring women together and the ways they support each other.
The Shape of Us, by Lisa Ireland
If she’d felt a jolt earlier, this was a canon, blowing a giant hole right through her. Cancer. Had they used that word earlier? She didn’t remember it.
Apparently appeased by her expression – finally the reaction they’d been waiting for – the doctor began to explain it all again, a third or maybe fourth time. Once again, Alice zoned out. because she couldn’t have cancer. She was barely forty, she ate well, exercised occasionally. More importantly, she couldn’t have cancer. She had Zoe.
Since Zoe was born, it has always been just her and Alice. And that’s the way they have both preferred it. Alice has never shared the story of Zoe’s conception, sure that she is enough for Zoe. And for Zoe, who lives with crippling social anxiety, Alice is enough for her. So, when Alice is told she has cancer, her first thought is for Zoe. Who will be there for her daughter? With her parents both dead, and her only remaining relative, her brother, a hopeless alcoholic, Alice reaches out to women newly in her life – her oncology nurse, Kate, and her social worker, Sonja. the three women have more in common than they could ever realise.
The Mother’s Promise is a moving story of strength, friendship and love. While Alice deals with her own battle, each of her two unlikely new friends also has her own private battle to face. At the same time her daughter, Zoe, must deal both with her mother’s illness and with her anxiety and its consequences.
Though the subject matter could make this grim, the story is both warmly and compellingly told.
The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth
Pan Macmillan, 2017
In the end it was the cancer that brought the memories. Chemotherapy sleep, cold like reptile skin. The smell of bile, the bone-deep ache and – for the first time in decades – dreams.
Years after the Vietnam War tore up his homeland and killed most of his family, Minh lives with his wife in Perth, Western Australia. he thinks he has left behind the past, with memories too painful to be faced or spoken of. But as he battles cancer, he finds the memories coming back, first in dreams and then in his waking hours.
In 1962 Australian soldier Frank Stevens is sent to the Vietnamese Highlands to recruit and train local tribesmen. As the situation becomes increasingly volatile both for the country and for Frank himself, his friendship with Minh, his translator, grows. The two seem inseparable.
Seeing the Elephant: A Novel is a heartwrenching novel of war, friendship and love, told from the first person point of view of the elderly Minh, looking back on his life, as well as through the letters Frank writes to his much loved grandfather back in Australia.
Historically the novel covers events leading up to the official involvement of Australia in the Vietnam conflict, but emotionally it covers even more – the effects of imperialist intervention on local people, loss, survival and the depths of love, in a finely crafted moving whole.
Shortlisted for the T.A.G. Hungerford Award in 2014, Seeing the Elephant: A Novel is a stunning debut novel.
Seeing the Elephant: A Novel, by Portland Jones
Margaret River Press, 2016
‘I’m sorry, I’m on my way home from work and it’s pouring with rain. Can you say that again?’
“I can call you back later?’ Dr Becker, the Head Geneticist at the Hereditary Cancer Clinic, said.
‘No, no. It’s fine,’ I replied, eager to know what I’d just heard about a cancer gene was correct.
‘Your family has a hereditary gene fault that increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer,’ Dr Becker repeated. ‘We’ve tested your dad and he’s a carrier of the gene.’
Tanya Saad hadn’t heard of the BRCA 1 gene until a family study revealed that her father was a carrier, and that many female relatives had died prematurely from breast or cervical cancer. When tests revealed that she too had the gene, her life changed irrevocably. Decisions had to be made about how to confront this news – whether to have difficult preventative surgery, or to rely on regular testing t pick up early signs of cancer, if she should develop it. The fact that one of her two sisters also tested positive added an extra challenge. As she navigated her way through these challenges, Tanya also revisited her childhood and her heritage, as well as reassessing her future.
From The Feet Up is an honest, personal account of one woman’s journey through a complex health issue. Blending the exploration of her experience with BRCA1, including the decision to have a preventative mastectomy with a memoir of her experiences as a Lebanese child growing up in a country town, her sporting career and her family life, makes for a complex and rich story.
An intriguing memoir.
From The Feet Up , by Tanya Saad
Harlequin Mira, 2014
Available from good bookstores or online.
I wait for him, the cold seeping through my clothes, until it finally dawns on me that he’s not coming back. And I wonder why he chose her instead of me? Why he went looking for her when I was right there.
Tai has been Juliet’s best friend since kindergarten, and they are both sure nothing will ever change that. But now, in their final year of highschool, they are realising that their feelings for each other might be something more than friendship. The magic of falling in love is sweet, and they dream of their future together. But those dreams are shattered when Tai goes to the doctor for a recurring headache – and learns that he has an incurable brain tumour. Suddenly their time together seems all too short.
There is no pretending that this is going to be a happy ever after book. The blurb makes it clear that not everything you wish for can come true. But whilst it is a truly sad story, it is told with a mix of wit, honesty and poignancy that makes it a pelasure to read, in spite of the heart wrenching nature of the subject matter and, inevitably, the ending.
Davidson deals with a tough topic senistively and realistically, using the dual perspectives of the young couple. She also doesn’t forget their friends and, importantly, their families, adding to the sense of authenticity. The use of the first person narrative takes the reader on an intimate journey.
Not an easy topic, but a rich, rewardng read.
Everything Left Unsaid, by Jessica Davidson
Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
When someone starts walking the cancer path, the changes start in their body even before their mind is aware of it. But from the instant the word ‘cancer’ is uttered in the doctor’s surgery, people’s thoughts are racing, trying to catch all of the implications, outcomes, impacts, possibilities.
When Sally Collings mother died from cancer, soon after the birth of her granddaughter , she saw nothing positive in the experience. So she was amazed to learn that two out of three cancer survivors and their families considered that something good had come out of their experiences. What could be good about living through or with cancer? Collings decided to explore further the positive side of cancer, and so embarked on a journey, talking to, listening to and getting to know people who had encountered cancer, either as a sufferer or as a supporter.
Positive tells the stories of these people – people who have seen (and felt) cancer bring them closer to loved ones, people who have experienced the outpouring of support, love and prayers, and people who have learnt to look deeper into themselves and into life itself.
Positive is, as the title suggests, an uplifting book – though it is not all about stories of survival. Rather it explores stories of a range of experiences and outcomes, focussing on the range of positives which different contributors have found. It may be of help to people who are on the cancer journey, but is also inspiring for any reader.
Positive: Finding Life in the Midst of Cancer, by Sally Collings
Harper Collins, 2009
This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
Jess half smiled. The beanie comments would be sure to come thick and fast all day. Jess just hoped and prayed that no one would be stupid enough to pull it off her head. She wasn’t quite ready to share her new look with the rest of the world. Not yet.
Jess is sixteen and in year eleven at school. Last week she kissed a boy for the first time. This week all her hair is falling out. She has cancer, and if Dylan finds out, he might drop her. If he doesn’t, he’ll probably feel sorry for her, which is worse. Can she keep Dylan AND keep the cancer a secret?
Keep Your Hair On is a story of sickness, friendship, and family. Jess is a likeable and believable teen trying to stay normal at a time when life is anything but. Her family – an absentee father, a slightly crazy, but well-meaning mother, and a younger bother who, as the story progresses, has troubles of his own – and her friends – Sarah, who is a supportive, if zany friend, and Charlotte, who doesn’t cope with Jess’s illness – make up an interesting cast.
Whilst the subject matter sounds grim, this is not a dark book. It is honest and very readable, mixing humour with the realities of dealing with a serious illness. A good read.
Keep Your Hair On, by Elizabeth Vercoe
Black Dog Books, 2003