The publishing industry has come on in leaps and bounds when it comes to putting diverse books on the market, certainly the Young Adult section of the store anyway *SO PROUD, sniff*, but one area that is still overlooked is learning disabilities. So I was super excited when I received an advanced reader copy of Rosie Loves Jack from publishers in exchange for an honest review, a contemporary love story following a protagonist with Downs Syndrome, which is something I have never had the chance to read before! A somewhat ambitious tale for a debut author to take on perhaps, but I have to say, she does a pretty good job!
Rosie loves Jack. Jack loves Rosie. So when they’re split up, Rosie will do anything to find the boy who makes the sun shine in her head. Even run away from home. Even cross London and travel to Brighton alone, though the trains are cancelled and the snow is falling. Even though any girl might find that hard, let alone a girl with Down’s syndrome. See the world through new eyes in this one-in-a-million story about fighting for the freedoms that we often take for granted: independence, tolerance and love.
Mel Darbon prefaces this book with a letter to the reader, sharing her own personal story. Her brother had Autism on the severe end of the spectrum, so he had limited verbal ability and would never be able to live independently. She goes on to explain that her brother has taught her compassion and patience, and that she went on to work at centres and as a teacher to help those with similar difficulties. This book is her letter to the rest of the world to not be judgemental, to show those with learning disabilities have a voice, have amazing strengths, and deserve to live without prejudice.
“Mum told me, ‘Above everything Rose, you are a human bean…. we love the same…. we think the same… and we are as important as each other.’”
Darbon’s writing is damn impressive. I would like to preface this review by saying I am not an expert in Downs Syndrome in any shape or form (I have worked with a couple of Downs Syndrome clients but my knowledge is very limited!) but wow, I felt that the author captured this unique voice so well. Darbon paints a beautiful picture of Rosie as a bright, funny individual with a huge heart. Darbon is clever with her writing – in some ways Rosie reads younger than her years with her stilted sentences, pronunciation of words, and the simplistic or overly logical yet beautiful ways she describes her emotions (happy is the sun shining in her head), but in other ways, she feels wise beyond her years.
“Jack makes me sky-tall and lion brave… and I make Jack’s angry fly away.”
The majority of this story follows Rosie on a rocky adventure to find her boyfriend after he is forced to move due to his aggression and anger difficulties (a side effect of a head injury that occurred when he was younger). One day Jack is there, the next he’s gone. This leaves poor Rose heartbroken and confused. Jack makes her brave and strong, and Rosie helps Jack calm his anger. Without each other, they don’t feel whole. Knowing Jack will be struggling too, Rosie marches to the train station armed with nothing but instructions a kind friend has written down for her, a bag of supplies, and her purple rose print boots.
“When I met Jack for the first time, he made my inside lonely go away. The sun came out in my head and my heart grew wings and took me up to the moon. I was real Rose. I was more Rose, Dad, than before I met Jack.”
Rosie makes her way to London to get a train connection that will take her to Jack, except, she gets there and all the trains are cancelled because SPOILER ALERT, UK TRAIN SERVICES SUCK (yeah, upfront warning, this book will make you feel allllll kinds of transport anger). This has a domino effect and Rose finds herself meeting all sorts of different characters, from friendly bystanders, drunks, nasty opportunists and downright horrific criminals (at one point, she ends up with a pimp and my heart was in my mouth). Not gonna lie, this book was darker than I expected in places!
All the secondary characters have a big part to play in making this novel great. Most of them only stick around for a chapter or two, but you learn so much about them as people by the way they react to Rose and the fact she has a boyfriend – some people are disgusted or horrified, while others are completely accepting or fist-pump happy for her. Two characters that particularly made an impact were one of the pimp’s girls, and a homeless teen – both of which at their absolute lowest still find a way to help someone vulnerable. Unfortunately, their stories are left rather open-ended – I wish we could have followed them further!
However, I do still have a few critiques of this book. For one, Rosie and Jack fall in love off the page, although we do get some description of how they met and their first weak and the knees moment, most of their relationship is built up with Rose’s inner monologue and letters that Jack writes to Rosie. For this reason, I found myself trying and somewhat failing to get behind the romance the whole way through, and their relationship only really clicked for me in the last third of the novel. If I had gotten behind it earlier, I think I would have enjoyed the story a lot more!
I must admit, I also struggled with reading a book with a character that was so romance focussed. This isn’t really a critique of the book, but more I guess a reflection of my personal preference. Rosie loves Jack to almost an obsessional level, and he takes up 95% of her thoughts. This is totally the story that the author wanted to tell and I respect that, but I personally just really struggled with Rose showing no other interests.
Finally, I feel like one section of the book had a little bit of racial stereotyping going on? Maybe this is me just being super oversensitive, but one of the only times someone European outside the UK was portrayed they felt like a stereotype straight out of Hollywood and I don’t know, it kind of made me feel uncomfortable? Just in general, this part of the storyline with the pimp didn’t sit quite right with me. I also feel like the consequences of this part of the storyline were never really explored further. My working-with-children-brain went into safeguarding overload. I get that Dalborn wants this to ultimately be a story which shows that those with learning disabilities can be strong and independent which does come across, but I also felt that there should have been more conversation about the things that Rose encountered so that she could learn from them. Sorry if that’s kind of vague, I’m trying to avoid spoilers!
Overall I really enjoyed this book. It’s a triumph of love over societal limitations. It’s about a girl fighting against the odds in her Rose patterned boots to find the boy she loves. It’s about championing those with learning disabilities and giving them a voice. I can’t say that it was perfect in every way for me, but I am so glad I read it and I want more stories like this!
“‘That’s completely different!’ Dad jumps up and goes over to the window.
‘Why, Dad? Is it cos I have Down’s Syndrome? Down’s syndrome isn’t me. I am Rose'”
Overall Impression: 3.8/5
(I don’t normally do half stars, but
I CANNOT decide between 3 or 4 stars for this one!)
Writing Style 4/5
Character Development 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes!
*Please note all quotes are from an advanced proof and are subject to change*