Today I have a review AND some questions asked by me, & answered by Mel Darbon herself!! I loved this book, not just for it’s representation, but also because the writing & story-telling were fab. This is a really important book for a whole number of reasons & I’m so excited that it’s the subject of my first author Q&A!
I read this book after being approached about a Q&A & read it for that reason; this does not impact on my opinion.
This book contains ableist behaviour/language, taking advantage of young girls,
discussions of rape/pimping out teenagers & other scenes of a sensitive nature.
I went into this book feeling unsure – unsure of whether the representation would be good, whether it would be a love story about “fixing” one another & unsure whether I would love it or hate it… as it happens, I can’t fault anything about Rosie Loves Jack & I’m incredibly happy I read it.
I read this book because of the disability rep as I had been given the opportunity to host a Q&A with author Mel Darbon (which you can find below), but I also really enjoyed it for reasons outside of the rep. I loved the honesty & raw emotion that’s gone into this book, & admire that Mel hasn’t shied away from including characters that other authors would avoid. Mel included some wonderfully kind characters in Rosie’s adventure, but even those people made ableist remarks, despite meaning no harm, & I think Mel has been very brave to include that because a lot of people try to hide that reality.
Equally, Mel also included some incredibly cruel characters, those whose mere presence on the page made my skin crawl, but I’m still pleased those characters were included because it added to the reality of Rosie’s journey. In fact, this book makes you feel like you really are travelling on the underground in London, & includes every kind of person you might meet on your journey! Rosie’s adventure is so absorbing & it’s made me so excited about my trip to London (which is today!).
Rosie Loves Jack is a love story, but it’s also a coming-of-age story that shows the world that disabled teens are just “normal”, “regular” teens that are full of angst, emotions & have a know-it-all complex! It’s a story about how brave girls are, how strong they are, & how wonderful strangers can be. It’s emotional, but inspiring & I want all of you to read it.
Author Q&A with Mel Darbon
1. Why this story? Why Rosie and Jack?
I’ve had this story inside me for a long time. The seed of it began with my brother who is severely autistic. I saw the way he was treated from an early age and always wanted to give him a voice, because he has none to give himself. I wanted people to see beyond his disability, which is what I wanted for Rosie and Jack. Later on in my life I worked with teenagers with Down’s syndrome who taught me so much about the way we make assumptions and they helped me see through new eyes. Like any other teenagers they wanted a girlfriend or boyfriend – a universal situation that we can all relate to. Two of the teenagers fell in love while I was working at the college. They were determined to be together, be independent, find jobs and eventually marry and have their own house. They were an inspiration to me and definitely impacted on my book and helped shape my characters Rosie and Jack. While I was writing my manuscript, a friend sent me a newspaper clipping from the local paper. My two teenagers had got married.
2. Why did you choose to write their story as a YA book, instead of another genre?
I decided I wanted to write a love story that demonstrated how my character, Rosie, is a teenage girl first and not just a person defined by her Down’s syndrome. Being a teenager or young adult is quite often the time that you might first fall in love – or dream of falling in love and it’s a time of intense emotion. I wanted to explore this through Rosie and show how love doesn’t discriminate between those who are able and those who are disabled. I felt that the YA audience would be very open to this. It is an age where you are discovering who you are as an individual, what you believe in and taking those first steps towards the adult world and independence. It is an exciting time as well as a very confusing time. This all fitted perfectly with my story and what Rosie and Jack were going through.
3. Anyone who has read your author’s note at the end of the book will know that you have a brother with Autism – why did you choose to write about Down’s Syndrome, instead of Autism?
I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me this! Yes, the seed for this book many years ago, was the inspiration from my brother, but I knew that it would be extremely hard to have someone like him as the protagonist. His speech is severely restricted, although I know that there is a lot more that goes on inside his head. It is something that I aspire to do, but I didn’t feel ready to write it yet and felt I needed more experience as a writer to find my own voice and not rush it.
When I worked with teenagers with Down’s syndrome, I realised they needed a voice too, to see themselves represented in the pages of a book as much as my brother did. I was so inspired by these young people, what they taught me and what they had to say, that I knew that one day I would write their story. It was while I was on the MA Writing for Young People that I was given an exercise to do on a character. Rosie was born, and she wouldn’t leave me alone. She took me by the hand and led me through her story. I felt I had no choice but to honour this and write her story first.
4. Can you tell us anything more about the girl that inspired Rosie’s character? Did anyone you know inspire Jack’s character?
Rosie was based on a very feisty young woman who I worked with at Henley College. She wasn’t going to let anyone, or anything hold her back. Her best friend had a mother who had Down’s syndrome and she took this as a point of reference for herself. She worked at Waitrose on a Saturday, was learning French, wanted to get a full-time job when she left college, live independently and definitely get married. Her determination and zest for life was an inspiration.
There wasn’t anyone in particular who inspired my character Jack, but lots of people. My main influence was a very sad one. A very dear friend lost her baby boy at birth, due to his brain being ruptured. It was devastating. I found myself wondering what this little boy would have been like if he’d lived and grown up. Would he have been like my brother with a severe learning disability? Or like Jack? His life might have been difficult, but it would have still been valuable. In a way it was my tribute to him, to give him life, as he never had the chance to know.
Lucy here… this brought a tear to my eye 👆
5. As a disabled person I adored Rosie & Jack, & love the representation your story provides, but there is still a lot of prejudice out there so why do you think that Rosie & Jack’s story has been so popular?
I’m so pleased that you feel this way. Thank you. When I was much younger, I felt upset and angry at people’s harsh – and often cruel response to my brother. As I grew up, I started to realise that a lot of this attitude stemmed from fear, a fear of the unknown, a fear of how to behave. Most people’s attitude stemmed from a lack of knowledge and education about people with a disability. This didn’t excuse the cruelty, but it made me realise that education was the place to start to help change this attitude. I think people have been pleased to have the chance to understand what it’s really like to have something like Down’s syndrome and to ‘put on Rosie’s shoes’ – between the safe pages of a book. It’s non-judgemental. Also, I think Rosie has captured people’s hearts as she has shown that she won’t give up, no matter what is thrown at her or what life has dealt her, and this can only be inspiring.
6. Do you feel that teenagers are more socially aware of the topics in your book now, as opposed to a few years ago e.g. disability, sexual exploitation, homelessness, etc.? If so, what do you think has caused awareness to improve?
I do think teenagers are more socially aware of the topics in my book, but mainly through social media, so they might be aware, but not necessarily understand it all or know how to process it. Yes, there are some excellent programmes and documentaries that will educate and inform, as will education in schools, but I feel that this is limited. So, it was very important to me to highlight some of these issues so that it could open up a dialogue for discussion at home and in schools.
7. Today is December 13th; the day in the story that Rosie meets Janek, & the day when Rosie’s adventure turns dark… what led you to include his character & that part of the story?
Rosie’s journey is a reflection of life, and, as I said in the previous question, with the media we can’t escape it. Any young person out in London by themselves is vulnerable, not just someone with Down’s syndrome. At sixteen you think you know it all, which can make you as naïve as someone like Rosie. It seemed a probable progression in the story that this could happen to my character and I felt I could use it to highlight these issues, but within the safe pages of a book. My daughter worked in London with young girls who were groomed, and I know from her that sexual exploitation was as prevalent with young people with a learning disability, as without. Young people have so much to contend with now-a-days and I want to help in any way that I can.
8. Following on from the previous question – I’m desperate to know what happened to Lisette, can you tell us a little about what you imagined happened to her & the other girls after Rosie was found?
Actually, I already know! I don’t want to say too much because I really want to tell these girl’s stories, but especially Lisette. All I will say is that Janek will not always be in her life or the other girls, but they have to go on their own “journeys” to be free.
9. Is there any chance of a sequel, or a spin-off about another character in Rosie Loves Jack? (coughLISETTEcough)
Ha ha! Yes, I’d love to do Lisette’s story as I can’t just leave her – and she won’t let me either. I also would love to do Jack’s story, which is a very different one for him in his unit and I would love to write Tom’s story and give the homeless a voice too. These characters became so real to me while I wrote them that I don’t want to just abandon them.
10. And finally, do you plan on writing anymore pro-disability books in the future?
Yes, I do plan to do this – and in fact my second book does just that. I won’t always focus on this area, but I feel it’s so important to make sure that everyone is given representation, as we all deserve to see ourselves in the pages of a book. We need to look beyond labels, not make assumptions about people and never assume that someone who has difficulty communicating has nothing to say.
You can find Mel’s website here.
It’s Lucy here again… I just want to thank Mel for her time & words; reading answers to questions I’ve personally asked makes me so happy! But also very emotional, because of the topic of the questions. I hope you appreciate these answers as much as I do & you can find Mel’s social media links above.