A Library of Lemons by Jo Cotterill
|A Library of Lemons by Jo Cotterill|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Ruth Ng|
|Summary: Desperately sad, but funny too, this is one of those stories that helps with difficult discussions about grief and depression, and yet it is also just an extremely good story, perfect for budding bookworms.|
|Buy? yes||Borrow? yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: May 2016|
|Publisher: Piccadilly Press|
|External links: Author's website|
Calypso is a quiet young girl, passionate about books and reading and writing and, since her mum died a few years ago, she has lived alone with her dad who is busy writing his own book on the history of the lemon. There’s never enough food in their fridge, and the house isn’t clean, and Calypso is too busy taking care of herself and her father to have any friends of her own age. But when a new girl, Mae, starts at school, Calypso discovers a kindred spirit, and when she visits Mae’s home she encounters a family quite the opposite to her own. Still, it is only when she discovers a secret that her father has been hiding from her that Calypso’s ability to cope begins to fail her, and she starts to wonder just how damaged her family is.
This is a wonderful book about the loss of a parent, the process of grieving, and depression. I know that all sounds rather heavy and dreadful, but even in the midst of the most desperate moments of despair, there is still a small sense of hope. The book is written in such a way that instead of feeling dragged down and utterly wretched about poor Calypso, it seems that there will be a way through for her and her father. This isn’t light reading, although it has many lighter moments. It is just a very well written, moving and sensitive story and, in spite of the serious nature of the content, I felt it was entirely suitable for pre-teens to read. I really, really liked how the issues are dealt with, and how very real everything felt. I felt so desperately sorry for Calypso, and initially had nothing but contempt for her dreadful father, but then as the story progresses you get more of a sense of where he is coming from, and his story is just as tragic, and real, as Calypso’s.
Since Calypso and Mae are such bookworms there are lots of literary references throughout, including several to ‘’Anne of Green Gables’’ which won my heart immediately since that’s my favourite book in the whole world. There are classic stories mentioned, and I know when I pass the book to my nine year old daughter to read she will recognise many but will probably find a few that she hasn’t yet read but wants to try. The girls both felt very realistic, both as young school girls and also as avid readers. I was greatly jealous of Calypso’s very own personal library, and when she uncovers her father’s secret I was as shocked and as outraged as she was. (I’m not going to say what it is...you’ll have to read it to find out!)
As in ‘’Anne of Green Gables’’, the friendship between the two girls is important, and I felt it was a very real portrayal of an instant and intense friendship. Mae’s family is warm and wonderfully normal, and after seeing Calypso’s homelife you can immediately feel how wonderful, and surprising, it must be every time she goes around there. I liked Mae’s mum very much in the story, but really it was Calypso who captured my imagination and my heart. She is such a thoughtful, sweet girl, forever downplaying herself and underestimating the trials she is enduring. There were lots of moments when Calypso would express a thought or a belief that I found very moving, and I liked that they were expressed in an understandable way, pitched perfectly for children and yet still meaningful for adults to read too.
I felt that the issue of mental illness was handled very well. Although the book ends on a hopeful note it is clear that there has been no magical ending, and everything has not been tidied up neatly and without any trouble. It is not exactly a happy ending. Calypso and her father both quite clearly still have a great deal to endure. But this makes it an honest book. I also felt that the subject of children as carers was dealt with very well, and when Calypso attends a group arranged for these children she meets some interesting characters, all dealing with very different and very difficult situations at home that prevent them from having ‘normal’ childhoods.
This was one of those books where after finishing I just had to sit quietly for a little while, to process everything that I had just read and to emotionally detatch from the characters. It is a really wonderful story, and I heartily recommend it.
Further reading suggestion: You might also enjoy this story too Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Library of Lemons by Jo Cotterill at Amazon.com.
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