From 12-18th February Nacoa welcomes in the 9th Children of Alcoholics Week. Their aim with this, is to reach out to the 1 in 5 children in the UK living with parents with alcohol problems. All week children’s book bloggers have been focusing on the book Will You Catch Me by Jane Elson and Hodder, and today it’s my stop on the tour.
Will You Catch Me is Nell’s story. Nell lives with her alcohol dependent mother, which comes hand in hand with responsibility, heartache, stress and loneliness. Ness feels like she is coping with it all on her own, and yet through this really beautiful book, you see that she is anything but. People are there to support her and help her, if she will only accept and ask for it.
But this is not just a story of Nell’s Mum, it’s Nell herself, a naturalist, who cares deeply about every living thing, a characterful and kindhearted, wistful, truly determined and strong girl. She is one of those book characters you really fall in love in, you finish the book invested in her future and happiness. In fact this story contains a host of beautiful caring characters who recognise Nell’s struggles and set out to help her, in particular her saviour the amazing Aunty Lou. The importance of this story is a deeper thing. Nell is somewhat fortunate to have neighbours who look out for her and her Mum, supportive and attentive teachers and good friends of her own, meaning when she needs help, it’s right there for her, and yet even then you see the struggle and inner fight she has with herself allowing these people to help and talking to anyone about her mother’s condition through fear of what might happen to her. As difficult as their situation is, and as resentful Nell may be at times, she loves her Mum and doesn’t wasn’t to be parted from her.
For other children with alcohol dependent parents, at its most basic, Will You Catch Me is a demonstration to them that they are not alone, that other children go through similar situations and feelings as they do, and a book that can do this can be a very powerful thing. But on a deeper level, it can show children that there is no harm to come from talking, that support is out there which does not intended to just split families up forever, but help them all for a better future. Showing children that there is support available and that talking to people is a way to reach it is a crucial aspect to this book. It is remarkable and it represents a forgotten and in need group.
Despite the difficult themes, Will You Catch Me is an entertaining read, with a medley of gorgeous characters, funny moments, ups and downs, it shows children another perspective on life, and it offers help, reassurance and understanding to those who may be experiencing the themes of the book themselves. It is beautifully written, clearly well researched, witty, emotional and covers common themes of bullying, friendships and parenthood alongside a much less often covered topic of children of alcoholics. Honestly, what more, really, can you ask for in a book?
I’m now thrilled to welcome author Jane Elson to Book Monsters, as we are lucky enough to have an exclusive piece which never made the final book, but is so worth sharing, so sit back and enjoy this little extra titbit.
The Story Within the Story: a bonus short from Will You Catch Me?
There is always a story before the story begins and a point at which the story has to be told. For me it was Calum Best’s interviews about the charity Nacoa – The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics. Will You Catch Me? is the story of eleven-year-old Nell Hobs who is constantly having her heart broken and her life turned upside down by her alcoholic mother.
In Will You Catch Me? Nell’s kindly neighbour, affectionately known as Aunty Lou, who is originally from Jamaica, becomes her saviour.
This is the story of how Nell and Aunty Lou first met. It didn’t make the final edit of Will You Catch Me? because sometimes writers have to explore their characters deeper and know that not everything will be included. But I’d like to share this story now to mark Children of Alcoholics Week and pay tribute to all the Aunty Lous out there who make a difference to children like Nell.
My family of friends, Sharon, Marcia and Semsem, have enthralled me with stories of childhoods spent in Jamaica. The rhythm of their stories beats through me. Mango Trees are a theme. My friend Semsem climbing high-high up the Mango Tree. My friend Marcia who was shown the very tree her mother Pearl used to climb as a child.
In the course of writing Nell’s story I asked myself what was that first moment of connection between Nell and Aunty Lou. Then I saw journalist, Camilla Tominey’s headline ‘Mummy is Drunk Please Read To Me’ on the front page of the Sunday Express and knew I had found Nell and Aunty Lou’s ‘moment’.
The article shocked me to the core. No matter what mood my dad was in when he came home from the pub – and life in our house revolved around this – I always had a bedtime story from my mum.
I knew then that my Nell was desperate for stories and when she couldn’t get them at home she would put her ear to the wall and listen to the voice of her neighbour, Aunty Lou telling stories…
‘My favourite story of all, was when she told about being in Jamaica, as a little girl, in a place called Redground, where the ground was red, no word of a lie, red as red can be. Aunty Lou, well, she wanted to climb this tall mango tree so that she could read her storybook hidden in the branches. Her brother, Winston, gave her a leg up, and she climbed high, high up into the tree but when she looked down she was too far up and she couldn’t get down again. She leant out of the branches to call to her brother for help, knocking her storybook from its perch, she watched as it spun down to the ground. ‘I want to get down,’ she called. ‘Please Winston?’ she called but he ran away laughing and started to kick a ball about with his friends Sam and Vincent and she called and called for help but no one came. Aunty Lou had no shoes on her feet and just a little blue cotton dress on and she could see the hills in the distance and as it got dark they looked like giants sleeping and she was scared as scared can be. Aunty Lou stuck high up in that tree, ate the sweet mangos to stop her hungry belly rumbling and the sweet juice dribbled down her dress. She jumped as an owl hooted and the woodpeckers pecked and parrots and hummingbirds called into the dark night and mosquitos and creepy crawlies made her itch enough to nearly fall out of the mango tree. And just when Aunty Lou thought she couldn’t stand it a moment longer something warm brushed up against her and it was a stray tabby cat. She named the cat Miss Lilly and she told the cat stories in the dark night to stop being so afraid. And do you know, that cat Miss Lily stayed with her, keeping her safe till Aunty Lou’s daddy came looking for her with a searchlight and helped her down from the mango tree and from that day on Miss Lilly came to visit Aunty Lou every day.
I just loved that story about her dad finding her.
I wish my dad would find me.
When I used to put my ear to the wall, to listen to stories, it was before Aunty Lou had got to know me but I heard through the wall that it was her birthday on February the 2nd so I used my pocket money and went and bought her a big carton of mango juice from Patel’s Newsagent. I knocked on her door and when she answered I just handed her the juice and said,
‘I like your story about the mango tree. Happy Birthday.’
That was the day Aunty Lou came in to my life and stayed there and she said,
‘Child the sweetness of the juice, you so kindly bought me, took me right back to that night in the mango tree, with no one but Miss Lilly for company.’
So from that day Aunty Lou always has a carton of mango juice in the fridge and it’s our special drink we have together.’
The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics (Nacoa) has a message for children like Nell. It is ‘You are not alone’. Their helpline number is 0800-358-3456. Children of Alcoholics week (10-16 February) aims to raise awareness of the lives of the 2.6 million children in the UK who are growing up affected by parental alcohol problems. For further information, including ways you can help and a downloadable #URNotAlone poster, please visit their website www.coaweek.org.uk or www.nacoa.org.uk
What a wonderful little extra insight into the story of Nell and Aunty Loo, two wonderful characters, what a treat, thank you so much Jane.
Will You Catch Me is available now from all good book shops and libraries. My copy is a library loan, and I also borrowed the audio book from my library, another fabulous way to enjoy the story.
You can find more about author Jane Elson on her website right here:
Thank you for reading this Book Monster review.