Panther by David Owen

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Panther by David Owen

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Powerful story about teen mental health. Unsentimental but very, very moving and also enlightening. A riveting story and an important contribution to a much-needed debate.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: May 2015
Publisher: Corsair
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1472116429

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Longlisted for the 2016 CILIP Carnegie Medal

Things have gone woefully wrong for Derrick. He's binge eating and his weight has spiralled. He's fallen out with his best friend. The girl he likes doesn't like him. He's in trouble at school. And if it weren't for his sister Charlotte, none of this shiznit would be happening. If Charlotte wasn't depressed, if she hadn't tried to... well, you know... everything would be fine, just like it used to be.

When the local papers start reporting about a possible big cat on the loose in his South London area, Derrick becomes convinced that it holds the key to solving all his problems. Imagine the power. If he could capture and tame a black panther, then surely he could do the same for Charlotte, his parents, and even himself...

Good lord but Panther is a powerful story. Mental health is a big subject to tackle and David Owen has waded right into it with admirable fearlessness. The blurb and my little precis might lead you to expect a story in in which a steady and supportive family go through the tribulations associated with being close to someone who is suffering badly with mental health issues.

And yes, it is that story. As things go on, you can see how Charlotte's depression has had a knock-on effect on the rest of her family - the parents have split up, the mother is exhausted, the house is shrouded in the blackest of clouds, and everyone feels isolated from the rest of the world. But also, it isn't that story. Because our central character, Derrick, is also unwell. There is more than one person whose mental health is at risk in this book. We see everything unfold through Derrick's eyes but of course he is a rather unreliable narrator. Is Charlotte really to blame for all his problems? Could the panther solve them? Is the panther even real at all?

The panther is a metaphor for all this turmoil. It's a beast as depression is a beast. It's slippery and hard to isolate and confine as depression is hard to isolate and confine. But the hunt to find it and neutralise its power it is all-consuming.

I don't want to say too much more for fear of spoiling it all. But I will say this: Panther is incredibly moving but it isn't at all sentimental. And, at a time when we are only just beginning to understand the costs of failing mental health, particularly on the young, we need these illuminating stories. They will help us talk about it more and, hopefully. reduce some of the damaging sense of isolation that ill people feel. And that's an important thing.


Other stories that focus on a young person's struggle with mental health include From Where I Stand by Tabitha Suzuma and Catcall by Linda Newbery.

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