The Gone Book.
by Helena Close | €9.99/£7.99 | 9781912417445 | 304 pages | Little Island |02/04/2020
Review by Síne Quinn
‘And every time I think of him I get a pain in my heart like the pain when you left and I knew after nine days waiting that you were really gone. You can’t ring now cos Granda’s gone but don’t even bother. Jamie hates you. I hate you too.’
Helena Close’s YA debut The Gone Book is sure to make a big splash. From the memorable first line right through to the dramatic conclusion, the story hurtles along at a rapid rate, riding the crest of a massive wave and finally throwing its reader on Lahinch’s shoreline with a thump.
When Matt’s mother ups and leaves, her three sons are bereft and her husband is furious. Each of them at a loss, they devise very different coping mechanisms to gain some sense of normality. Matt turns to writing to keep him sane, telling his mother all he feels, knowing she’ll never read his words. Years go by and his notebook is filled to the brim with the range of emotions: grief, anger, despair, hope. ‘I still dream about you. I hate myself for doing that. Giving you space in my head. Seeing you dream-smiling at me.’
His grief has also made him over-eat, until he discovers the joy of skateboarding and things begin to get a whole lot better. He becomes so focused on skating that he forgets his pain and the weight falls off rapidly.
Then a chance encounter with a cousin he doesn’t recognise or even know sends his world into a spin. She tells him his mother is back after five years. Jamie is furious, Matt is curious and Conor just wants his mam no matter what.
The novel emphasises the impact of their mother’s loss for each of the brothers. Though different in age and life stages, Close deftly develops each character and highlights their extraordinary pain. Jamie was a high achiever doing well before she abandoned them. The story follows his self-sabotage and descent into alcohol and drugs, and how his father and brothers try to deal with it. Jamie’s life spirals out of control until he describes himself as ‘a dead man walking’. The boys are constantly on the edge of violence, whether it’s being jumped on for Confirmation money or drug money. The story explores effectively the different types of addictions from alcohol, drugs, exercise, food and shopping.
Close is an incredible storyteller. Though an impactful and memorable novel, The Gone Book is not for the fainthearted. Ideal for older teens and perfect as a crossover novel.
Reviewer: Síne Quinn has an M.Phil in Children’s Literature and is a Managing Editor with Cubicle 7. A Children’s Books Ireland book doctor and creative-writing teacher working with the Bookmarks Programme, TCD, she provides editorial and writing support and advice to Irish and international publishers.