The Best Medicine by Christine Hamill

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The Best Medicine by Christine Hamill

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Reviewed by Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Summary: Packed to the rafters with humour, The Best Medicine turns what could've been a very serious story, into one that is both highly entertaining and wonderfully touching.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 166 Date: May 2016
Publisher: Little Island Books
ISBN: 9781910411513

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Aspiring 12-year-old comedian Philip has plenty of complicated stuff going on in his life. There's the unrequited love of his life, The Goddess (also known as Lucy), who only seems to be aware of his existence during his most embarrassing moments. He's also somehow managed to end up as the unwilling poetry protégé of his English teacher. Worst of all, there's The Yeti, the dim-witted school bully determined to torment him to the ends of the earth (or the corridor, at least). Despite the troubles, Philip has always been able to rely on his best friend Ang, comedian Harry Hill, and good old mum, for company, inspiration and unconditional support, respectively. However, when his mum is diagnosed with cancer, Philip finds his life taking a turn into the uncharted. She has always been his rock, the one who never fails to laugh at his jokes, the ever reliable presence in his life. Then, Ang starts acting weird, and on top of that, Harry Hill refuses to reply to Philip's fan mail. Keeping a sense of humour is tough when life seems to be intent on throwing an endless supply of lemons at you.

Despite the rather serious underlying topic matter of a cancer diagnosis, there is no doubt that The Best Medicine is very much a comedy at its heart. Humour is everywhere, from the jokes scattered liberally throughout the pages, to the fan-letters to Harry Hill that frame the chapters, to the many ridiculous and hilariously laugh-out-loud situations that the boy somehow manages to get himself into throughout the book. For much of the story, Philip's narrative reads like one continuous stand-up routine, bursting out of the seams with his love for comedy and almost perpetually humorous outlook on life. And fortunately for readers, Christine Hamill proves herself to be a very funny writer which, coupled with her skilful capture of the genuine voice and personality of a 12-year-old, makes for both a highly entertaining and wonderfully realistic tale.

Philip's reactions to his mother's diagnosis, her behaviour, her physical changes, all feel so genuine and understandable. They are the reactions of a kid who might not fully understand all the medical science and technicalities of his mother's disease, but who loves his mother and knows her well. He can sense something of what she's going through even if he struggles to find a way to make her feel better. It's a beautiful insight into the effect that a disease like cancer can have, not just on the patient, but also on the surrounding friends and family. In particular, it is a portrayal that sidesteps the potential to drown in sorrow and sentimentality, instead choosing to convey how everyday life keeps going despite the life-changing nature of a diagnosis. The powerful bond between mother and son, and the wonderful support and comfort that such a relationship bestows, forms the beating heart of the story.

Despite being somewhat predictable, the Harry Hill angle was wrapped-up in a pleasingly satisfying manner. I also rather enjoyed the surprising role that poetry ended up playing in the story. However, I thought some of the aspects of the school side of Philip's life, including his girl troubles, bully issues and the conflict with best friend Ang, were under-developed and didn't quite pull together in a satisfying manner. Nonetheless, the consistent entertainment value of the humour, combined with the powerful emotional beats of the final third, which has some really beautifully written chapters, makes The Best Medicine well worth picking up.

My thanks to the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Another excellent coming-of-age story is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, a wonderful read filled with hope, despair and humour in equal measures. Meanwhile, R J Palacio's Wonder is a beautiful book, with multiple marvellously genuine young characters combining to tell a gentle but mesmerising tale. For older teens, I would recommend In Bloom by Matthew Crow for an honest and life-affirming tale of two teens with cancer, filled with a plethora of great characters and surprisingly laugh-out-loud humour. Adults might appreciate Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin.

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