Finding a Voice: Friendship is a Two-Way Street ... ISBN: 9781847175434
Published by The OBrien Press, 2014
Jo and Chris are looking for their voices in very different ways, and they need each other's help big time. Thirteen year old Jo has a mother with serious mental health issues, so serious that they can't be given a label. Jo is her main carer, and while she loves her mum dearly, she finds life very difficult because mum is so unpredictable. From primary days, she has had no friends because other mums won't let their children play with her, and even now that she is in secondary school, she is very much a loner. Word has got round about her 'crazy mum', and it is only when she meets newcomer Sarah that there is hope for a friendship. But even this goes awry, and Jo is desperate. Sessions with the school counsellor don't help much because Jo has no way she can 'voice' her problems due to fear of what might happen to her and her mum. When the counsellor suggests that Jo might like to help in the Special Education department of her school, she accepts the challenge in order to get away from the other pupils who ignore her. And here she meets Chris. Chris is fifteen and has severe Cerebral Palsy. He is in a wheelchair, has no useful movement, no way to talk, lives in a home for disabled children and is considered more or less unteachable. Unbeknownst to those around him, he is highly intelligent, but has no means of communication, no voice. It is Jo who spends time with him, who is able for the first time to talk to him about her sad home situation, who begins to understand his intelligence. She discovers he can read and devises a system using just the movement of his head to communicate. It is very slow and cumbersome, but it works, and little by little they get to know each other. Jo's error is that she doesn't tell anyone what is happening, and in the only unbelievable section of the story, she 'kidnaps' her friend from school and takes him to her special place, a hideout in the woods where they are both in danger which only she can get them out of. It's a riveting read in spite of having to suspend rather a lot of disbelief, and in the end she and the understanding SEN teacher help Chris to literally find his voice through computers and technical help. He will be able to attend normal classes and there is every hope that his life has changed immeasurably. Jo's too, as she is given proper help for her mother. The scenes when her mum goes off the rails, most of which happen in the first half of the book, are harrowing and all too believable. Both young people find their voices in spectacular ways, and life will be good one feels. Even Sarah comes back into Jo's life, so she has two friends now and is, probably for the first time in her life, happy. Great stuff!