I read this book over and over and over again when I was younger, before abandoning it for books more my age. Having not read the book for years, it was a set book on a children’s writing course I took at uni last year. I re-read the book and fell in love with it all over again. This time, however, it was a new experience: I found myself so close to tears at one point that I couldn’t stop one solitary escapee sliding down my cheek.
The book begins on Christmas Day, with 12-year old Colin feeling hard done by after his eight-year old brother Luke gets everything he wants for Christmas, while all Colin gets are daggy school shoes. But then, Luke faints. And soon after that he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer. Colin’s parents send Colin to relatives in England in an attempt to shelter him from the reality of what’s going on at home. But Colin has a plan: to find the best doctor in the world and bring him back to Australia so he can cure Luke’s cancer.
Gleitzman has an amazing gift of writing about the real world in a way which is accessible for kids, seamlessly combining the dark subject matter with humour. The joy of re-reading this book was discovering all the jokes which washed completely over my head as a kid, and realising just how talented a writer Gleitzman is. The heroes of his stories are always kids, who tackle challenges which some adults balk at with an unwavering optimism.
As a child reading the book, I loved the crazy plans Colin concocted to try to help his brother. I loved his sheltered, wrapped-in-cotton-wool cousin, Alistair, and the way Colin never got deterred when his plans fell apart. As an adult reading the book, I love the way Gleitzman captures Colin’s parents’ anguish, and that Colin, in his loveable naivety, is the one to comfort them. I love the sadness in the book I couldn’t quite detect when I was younger, but which now leaves me almost in tears. I love that Gleitzman isn’t afraid to tumble headfirst into these subjects, and nor should he be. He always produces a quality children’s book which adults could learn a thing or two from as well.
Blackie and Son Limited, 1989 (Great Britain)
Pan Macmillan, 1990 (Australia)