I had high hopes for this book as the whole family are such huge fans of Simon Mason's other books, especially those featuring The Quigleys. These rank at the top of children's fiction, as modern family equivalents of hilarious stories such as Just William, and more recognisable but just as fun as must-read Mr Gum (You're a Bad Man, Mr. Gum!).
This is an altogether more complete tale than any of those above. Dealing with the difficult issues of loss of a parent, alcoholism, growing up and family relationships (with a happy ending!), this is my book of the year so far.
Martha, the 11-12 year-old heroine, made my smile and cry and grit my teeth in sympathy. Her brother Tug, only 5 at the start of the story, is a perfect partner for her, and gives a fresh perspective to the story (viewed through his eyes basic needs such as sleep and hunger are never far away). The alcoholic father is hugely sympathetic, tragic and frightening, and other characters are finely drawn and recognisable in every detail.
This book was a little 'younger' than I would normally venture into with my reading, but actually I'm really glad I did because it was fantastic! It is a sweet story about eleven year-old Martha, who looks after her house and her little brother Tug every day because her dad is never at home. Meanwhile HE is becoming more and more 'strange', doing reckless things and being silly all the time, to the point where even Tug is unimpressed. As it turns out, he has been steadily descending into alcoholism since their mother died - and things are about to reach crisis point...
It's certainly a serious subject, but as in Jacqueline Wilson's books, it is woven together with cheerier subplots (mostly about filmmaking - the children make their own movies with their friends), and it is handled with a lightness of touch that saves it ever getting too much for a young reader to handle. Things DO get bad - their lives are turned upside down by their father's illness - and there are some terribly poignant moments, but the novel shows the whole family working through their issues and ultimately reaching a happy ending. There is a truckload of wonderful humour to temper even the darkest of moments, and I have to say, the children are a delight: Mason nails their voices and little quirks so precisely, it's a joy to read. I particularly liked little Tug (who is always hungry, especially for pies) and Martha's flamboyant diva friend Marcus! And Martha is such a wonderful character to root for. She's like all my favourite young literary heroines rolled into one - a little Matilda, a little Anne Shirley, a little Jo March, a little Sara Crewe...
I think this would be a great book for older children and tweenage readers, and while I was reading it I was also struck by how good it would be for reading aloud in the classroom. There's plenty to discuss in terms of the more mature themes, but also plenty of giggle-out-loud crowd-pleasing moments as well (Tug is one of the funniest characters I've come across in AGES!). All in all, I'd highly recommend it - though parents might want to read it first to be sure their kids will be able to comprehend and handle the more graphic elements of the alcoholism storyline.
This is another book that has been nominated for Children's Book of the Year with our Children's Book Group. I am reading all the shortlist first before they are given to the Children. Aimed at 8-12 year olds. Martha is 11 and has a lot of responsibility, she's used to being in charge and staying calm, since her mum dies she's had to help look after her 5 year old brother Tug and also care for her dad who keeps acting 'strange'. This is principally a story about Alcoholism, and toldd through Martha's point of view. It's really chilling but also heart warming to see her discover what's wrong with her dad and also work to try and 'fix' everything. Tug offers a bit of comic relief but also pulls your heart strings - his view of events is very often focused on food and sleep - the main focus of any young child, but when he asks Martha about his Dad and what will happen to them, it melts your heart. For a children's book it is quite a strong topic - but I know there are a lot of kids that go through this sort of thing so this helps others and them have an understanding of what is happening to them. I didn't think I would like this book and for the first 50 or so pages I still wasn't sure, but I became connected to Martha and wanted to know what happened to her and little Tug. This is one of those books that I would suggest parents read with their children so if they have any questions, you can answer them, Also good for discussion. Not everyone's cup of tea, but a good heart-felt story. Well researched and delicately handled. Kudos to the writer for handling such a sensitive subject.
The characters are what make this superb. Martha takes charge of everything when Father goes strange - "I am 11," she declares. Five year old Tug yearns for pie and helps Martha roll Dad on the floor when he passes out. Twelve year old Marcus is obsessed with fashion and film and creates speed videos of the old classics (playing all the roles of course). There's a dead, glamorous mother, a stern grandma with lots of rules, a dad falling off his life. And yet every chapter has a hilarious note, and even as you despair for Dad, your heart can't help but swell at these magnificent children, innocent, wise and unflinching - this keeps company with the best of Morris Gleitzman and Frank Cottrell Boyce. The author's deft touch keeps the light shining even in the darkest moments. Unforgettable and unmissable.
Martha, aged 11, cooks, sews and generally looks after her increasingly odd father, and her little brother Tug. In her spare time she helps her flamboyant best friend Marcus to remake classic movies. But Dad isn't just eccentric, he's alcoholic. Simon Mason manages to pull off the difficult trick of keeping the story light and quirky, whilst not flinching from the consequences that this brings for Martha and Tug. Don't be put off by the seemingly dark side to this story. It's a really enjoyable read, and one that will make young readers think, too.
This is in a different league to Simon Mason's Quigley family series. A deeper, thought-provoking and disturbing read. Although it is a "children's book," I found myself wondering what it would be like to be a child reader, especially if alcoholism, or anything else that makes adults "strange" to children, had touched your life. It is slightly painful all the way through, but pacey and funny too. Simon Mason is a clever writer to pull this off. I thought it was a brilliant book but would like to see some reviews from younger readers here. Parents wondering whether or not to let their (older) children loose on this subject matter may be reassured to know that there is a happy ending after all.
Picked this up in the library for my nine year old who is an avid reader. She was reluctant to pick it up at first but I read the first chapter for her one night and she was absolutely hooked. I found myself the next day picking it up to read after the school run as I couldn't wait to find out what happened next............
My daughter truly loved it and I think its great because its about real life scenarios in a light hearted way