Red Sky in the Morning by Elizabeth Laird

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Red Sky in the Morning by Elizabeth Laird

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Honest and perceptive, direct and emotionally engaging, Red Sky In The Morning is a sensitive book about disability, adolescence and family responsibility. Highly recommended for passionate readers of ten and upwards.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
ISBN: 0330442902

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Anna's little brother, Ben, was born with hydrocephalus. He is profoundly disabled. But from the moment she sees him, Anna loves him, far more than she could ever have imagined she would love anyone. She spends every moment possible with Ben, cuddling him, comforting him, even teaching him to kiss. However, at school, Anna keeps Ben's disability a secret. It fills her with shame and she is too afraid of prejudice and mockery to face up to the reactions of her classmates. Until, inevitably, it is forced upon her.

My friend Magda says she can't remember what it was like to be an adolescent. I can remember what it was like with perfect clarity. I remember the passion of it all. I remember making the most crashingly inappropriate statements in a fruitless quest to demonstrate my maturity. I remember how the tiniest setback felt like the most abject - and public - humiliation. During adolescence, our world view changes, is forced to change. We are required to accept that we are not at the centre of everything that happens, that other people have motives and desires irrelevant to ours. Becoming independent is a huge leap of faith. It's no surprise teenagers have such nuclear overreactions. They want independence, but they feel so, well, needy and dependent. In Anna, Laird captures this wonderfully well. Anna is a "good" person, and her mistakes and misdeeds aren't made from malice, but rather from an inability to cope with the pressures thrust upon her. Her struggles are all tremendously sympathetic.

In fact, everything about Red Sky In The Morning is tremendously sympathetic. All the characters are flawed, all at times are unable to cope, all do things that are, at best, unwise. However, you don't lose sympathy with any of them. Even the most spiteful of Anna's classmates - and the book doesn't gloss over the immense capacity for psychological torture contained within a group of adolescent girls - are given stresses of their own to which they are reacting. As Anna begins to see this, she begins to find the independence she craves. It's the learning curve we've all followed.

First published almost twenty years ago, Red Sky In The Morning isn't dated at all. Anna seems as fresh as my children do, and as any of their contemporaries do. It's absolutely and unrelentingly honest - over the course of the book Anna feels sick at the thought of adult sex, excited at the thought of having sex herself and fantasises about her parents dying and the ways in which she could heroically step into the breach. And yet, it's also subtle and finely observed.

Children will love Red Sky In The Morning because of the many chords it will strike. Its powerful statement calling for the inclusion of the disabled will appeal to their fledgling sense of justice and its candour will win them over. Young people can spot a fake from a mile away. I think adults should read it too - any parent struggling with an "impossible" adolescent might gain some insight, might even remember how it was for them. Laird has a way of sifting through the compromises and alighting upon simple truths that many adults will find incredibly refreshing and even comforting. For everyone, it's a sensitive study of family stresses and responsibilities.

Those under ten may find the emotional landscape unfamiliar unless they have some specific experience of disability, in which case they will recognise it all too well. All those aged ten and over will take something very valuable from reading this book. Adults will appreciate The Way Back to Us by Kay Langdale. We also have a review of The Prince Who Walked with Lions by Elizabeth Laird.

Bookinterviews.jpg Elizabeth Laird was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

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Magda said:

Come to think of it, I actually do remember myself aged about 11 and behaving in a similar fashion regarding my father's disability (physical and not very obvious at first look). Strangely enough there was absolutely no reason for it, as nobody I ever 'confided' in expressed any negative attitudes. But the sheer fact of being different in this way (not even myself!) was somehow a worry. Mindboggling!