As someone who has experienced the sudden loss of someone close I know how shocking and life-changing it can be. I also know how hard it is for others to know what to say and that it is subject that is not talked about as much as it should be, especially considering the fact that it will affect us all at some point in our lives. That is why, today, I am delighted to have an amazing guest post about loss and hope from the lovely Christina Banach, author of Minty, my review of which is below.
Blurb: Fourteen-year old twins Minty and Jess are inseparable. Maybe they bicker now and then, even crave a bit of space once in a while. But they have a connection. Unbreakable. Steadfast. Nothing can tear them apart. Until a family trip to the coast puts their bond in jeopardy. As Minty tries to rescue her dog from drowning she ends up fighting for her life. Will Minty survive? If she doesn’t, how will Jess cope without her? Only the stormy sea has the answer.
Guest post: on loss and hope.
Many years ago when I was a young teacher, a boy arrived in my classroom before the start of the school day, desperate to talk to me. It was evident that something was troubling him and when I asked what was wrong he told me that his grandad had died during the night. Being very close to his grandfather, the boy was completely distraught that their bond had been shattered. He questioned why his granddad had died and why he never got the chance to say a proper goodbye to him. He asked me if I believed in life after death and whether his grandad’s spirit might live on in some way – whether he would see him again.
Although I thought of myself as someone who could say the right thing at the right time to my students, I knew that nothing I could offer this boy was of any real comfort for at that point in my life I’d had very little personal experience of bereavement. I remember searching through the school library for a book that might help him make sense of what had happened. It took me a while to find one that might appeal to him. It struck me then how few children’s books there were that dealt with the loss of a loved one, and how difficult it was to talk about the subject of death with a young person, and to offer meaningful solace.
Fast-forward over three decades to another boy and another school. By now my novel, Minty, had been published so I was there for an author visit. As my book is a ghost story, told from the point of view of the ghost, I began my talk by asking the students if anyone believed in spirits and the afterlife. A sea of hands went up, one of which belonged to a boy who then went on to tell me that he’d seen the ghost of his late grandfather. From his demeanor, I could see that this lad was desperate to tell me more so I made a mental note to chat with him at the end of my event, which I duly did. As we conversed I was transported back to that poignant conversation many years before, and when I signed his copy of Minty for him I truly hoped that he would find something within its pages that would ease his pain.
On the drive home, I thought about both boys, separated by time but unified by a common experience. I was struck by how things had changed in terms of the availability of suitable fiction to help such young people understand, process and deal with death and bereavement, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss, Annabel Pitcher’s My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece, and my own book, Minty, to name only a few.
It also made me wonder if that early morning chat with my pupil all those years ago might have prompted me to write Minty; whether the memory of his deep grief at his grandfather’s demise, and my feelings of helplessness at his plight, had lodged themselves in the recesses of my brain just waiting for the spark to set them free. Whether in the intervening years I had been subconsciously working out a way to help such grieving youngsters by writing a book that could help them explore their feelings and offer them some solace.
Perhaps I’ll never know the answer to my questions. What I do know, however, is that something did indeed spark the idea for my book: my own very personal experiences of bereavement and a rather unusual series of occurrences. Allow me to explain:
Some years ago, in the middle of the night, I thought I sensed my late father’s presence: the self-same aroma of flour and sugar that used to linger on his overalls when he worked as a baker-confectioner during my early childhood. Although Dad had died the previous November, this wasn’t the first time that I’d detected this distinctive scent around my house. The question was, why? Was my father trying to contact me – to tell me something? These thoughts ran through my mind as, unable to get back to sleep, I sat in the sunroom. Then, just as the sun rose, I heard my dog panting and put out my hand to stroke her. Until it struck me – how could it be my pet? She’d died the month before. That’s when Minty came to me: the tale of a teenage girl to whom the unimaginable happens. The story of twin sisters, Minty and Jess, whose unbreakable bond is challenged in the most heart-breaking way. A story about love, loss and family and the possibility of an afterlife. But, above all, a story about hope.
I’ll never forget that early morning classroom and that poor boy’s raw grief. I shall always regret my inability to truly ease his pain. Whatever my reasons for writing Minty I hope that in some small way my book might help anyone who has had to endure the loss of someone they dearly love. That it might bring light into their dark days and even allow them to express their feelings at what has happened to them.
My Rating: 4/5
Review: I had some trouble writing this review and only a small part of that was down to the fact that I’m not the target audience for this book. This is not the first YA book I’ve read but it is the first that deals with this subject.
Minty is a refreshingly realistic and honest look at how death and grief can affect people. This subject is not discussed anywhere near as much as it should be, and even less so with those under 18 so this book is a good way of raising the subject and letting people know that there is more than one way to deal with loss and grief. Minty is essentially a ghost story but not a spooky one. The story is told from Minty’s perspective so we get to see how she deals with the realities of being dead as well as watching how her family, especially her twin sister Jess, deals with having lost her. The confusion, lack of understanding and hollowness that can accompany a sudden loss are dealt with sensitively but not minimised. The effects that Minty’s loss has on the family are clear and that clarity is important in letting readers understand that these feelings are all perfectly normal.
The telling of the story from Minty’s perspective allows us to see everything but also allows us a unique view into how someone who has died might feel were they to remain in the presence of their family and friends. Whether you believe in life after death or not it is an intriguing idea and makes you think ‘what if…..’. Ultimately this is a story that should be read by anyone interested in grief and loss whether they have experienced it or not. It could be equally helpful to those who have lost someone and those who haven’t to aid the understanding of both sides of the experience.
Minty, a YA/Crossover novel, is Christina’s debut. It was selected as a Scottish Book Trust Teen’s Book of the Month for December, shortlisted for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and nominated for the Cybils.
She is currently working on her next book, a contemporary mystery set in the Scottish Highlands.