Wednesday, 28 June 2017

I Have No Secrets, by Penny Joelson, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart

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This is a wonderful book; fresh, highly readable, and giving an insight into the life of a severely disabled person in a way I've never seen done in a story for children before.  It’s a book that every secondary school library should stock and promote.  Why?

Fourteen-year-old Jemma has severe cerebral palsy, meaning that she has no independence and no means of communicating.  Her lovely mum and dad foster her, along with two other children with different severe problems.  Sarah, Jemma's carer, is her friend and roll model.  But then Sarah disappears, and Jemma almost certainly knows who is responsible for that, and also for a local murder.  Dan, Sarah’s new boyfriend, may play at being charming when in company he wants to impress, but feels safe to threaten and tease Jemma with revelations because she can’t tell anybody anything, can she?  But a new device offers Jemma the chance to have her say.  Will it be in time to save herself, and Sarah?  This story is a domestic thriller, and it certainly has that unputdownable quality that comes with characters we care about being in urgent peril. 

This is all told in the first person by Jemma herself, so we understand how absolutely normal and bright she is in spite of her odd appearance and lack of speech.  We get to experience Jemma’s frustrations at being ignored or sidelined, parked in her wheelchair in a position that stops her from seeing what she wants and needs to see, or present at conversations where she is the only one who could tell what they need to know, if only she could ‘tell’.  And we also share her excitement in discovering a twin sister, and the difficulties that produces on both sides. 

This is Penny Joelson’s first novel, and it’s an important one.  Watch out for more to come!


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