“I don’t ever remember seeing someone like Jake in a book or on TV – it’s as though people with learning disabilities don’t exist in public. The sadness of that overwhelms me. Jake’s been blanked out of life.”Page 165 of What The World Doesn’t See by Mel Darbon
What The World Doesn’t See is a profoundly moving novel written with love and understanding by an author who has given a voice to those who have been under represented in books for children and teens up to now. In this story Mel Darbon offers an insight into life for those with a learning disability and for those who love and care for someone who has one. An utterly absorbing read and one that will make a difference.
Maudie and Jake’s dad has died and their once solid family unit is broken by grief. Their mum has fallen into depression and is struggling to cope, overwhelmed by the loss of her husband, the need to financially support the three of them and cater for Jake’s additional needs, one night she simply disappears. Her sister Emma initially steps in to help but she finds the situation impossible and arranges for Jake, who has a learning disability, to be put into foster care. Maudie is in despair. Her mum is not answering her texts, she is grief stricken from the death of her adored dad and now her beloved brother has been taken away from her. She takes matters into her own hands and kidnaps Jake and together brother and sister go on the run to Cornwall.
Told in a dual narrative between Jake and Maudie the voices of both characters are genuinely engaging bringing the story to life for the reader. Within pages one cares about both of these young people but it is Jake’s distinctive personality that stands out throughout the book. With her own personal family experience to draw on Mel Darbon ensures that Jake is a fully rounded character with a sense humour and a strong bond with his older sister. The two voices enable us to see both Maudie’s reaction to other people’s attitudes but more importantly we see how Jake feels when people are cruel or careless in their treatment of him. The story is a learning experience for both characters and readers. The warmth and love between the main characters is touching and there are many who offer the hand of friendship and support to them both and others who, through lack of experience, do not initially understand but make great efforts to do so.
Maudie and Jake and their strong and loving bond is at the centre of this compelling story however there are other characters who play an important role. The strong friendship between Maudie and her friend Liv, the kindly caravan site owner Brae, Gerren the local boy with whom Maudie tentatively begins a relationship and others who make fleeting appearances such as the cafe waitress, all give this tender story a kind and hopeful air. This optimism is conveyed to the reader so that the grief of this family is balanced by their love and ultimately their resilience.
This is a book that works both as a reading experience with great emotional impact but also as a story that encourages you to ask questions and to think about attitudes, differences, inclusion and representation. Mel Darbon pushes us to look beyond the labels and the stereotypes to people as individuals. March is Disability Awareness Month and What The World Doesn’t See will do a great deal to raise that awareness. Although the story and Mel’s Author Note about her beloved brother moved me to tears I am glad I read this beautiful book.
Thank you to Fritha Lindqvist and Usborne Books for my review copy. What The World Doesn’t See was published on 3rd March for readers aged 13+ and can be purchased online here.
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