Blogtober Day 17: Review: Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon
Rosie Loves Jack begins with a newspaper article detailing the story of a teenager with Down’s syndrome who has gone missing after running away from home to be reunited with her boyfriend.
When we join Rose, it’s before she embarks on her cross-country adventure to Jack, who gets taken away after throwing a chair at school. Jack’s brain was hurt when he was born, but Rose trusts that he won’t hurt her, no matter how much her dad worries for her safety. In fact, the only reason Rose leaves is because she finds postcards from Jack in her dad’s office which he’s hidden from her. Rose thought that Jack didn’t love her anymore, and in the postcards Jack expresses the same worry, so Rose decides to strike out on her own.
She’s not Rose without Jack, and Jack isn’t Jack without Rose.
Mel Darbon has written an astounding debut. When I realised that this was a book about a girl with Down’s syndrome written by someone who hasn’t directly experienced living with Down’s, I’ll admit it – I was apprehensive. There are a lot of stereotypes regarding Down’s syndrome laced throughout pop culture, and I was worried that this novel was going to regurgitate all of them, but Darbon directly contradicts the most common preconceptions regarding the syndrome.
Just think about the title: Rosie Loves Jack. So often, people with Down’s syndrome are represented as sexless beings who don’t think about things like love or relationships, but Rosie Loves Jack tears down this notion. Rose reminisces on times when her and Jack have kissed, romantic memories laced throughout the ongoing story making you root for a couple that barely spend any time together on the page.
Darbon includes background characters who scoff at Rose when she talks about Jack, and although this infuriated and upset me in equal measure it felt true to life. I was glad that she made Rose aware of – but not too hurt by – their comments, and I hope that anyone who reads this book learns to think twice before reacting in case people get hurt.
It’s easy to get emotional when reading this novel, because it’s much darker than it first seems. A man finds Rose in the park and helps her, but when she gets to his house she realises that he has girls there who are forced to do sex things with men. Rose makes friends with one of the girls and they attempt to escape together, but things go wrong and they’re taken back there. There isn’t a neat resolution to that aspect of the plot – another way that Darbon makes this book highly realistic: there’s no happy reunion at the end where all of the people who help Rose along the way are brought together to celebrate her bravery and the journey she takes. It would be highly cinematic and extremely pleasing to be reintroduced to some of the characters who help her, so that we could see where they ended up, but it just wouldn’t be genuine.
Rose states at multiple times throughout the story that she isn’t Down’s syndrome, she is Rose, and I think it’s important to keep this in mind when approaching any character – or, indeed, anybody – who has something that makes them different. It’s easy, when you have a friend who is dealing with something, to focus solely on that aspect of their life, but Rosie Loves Jack treats each character as a layered and nuanced individual. This is a cast fully of vibrant and lively characters, and it’s a pleasure to read.
The only reason I’ve marked down a star is because there were aspects of the book which didn’t translate well on my library eBook copy. I’m not sure whether these aspects work better if you read a physical copy of the book, but I enjoyed this so much that I’m planning on getting my own copy. When I manage to find the time to reread this book, I’ll probably end up bumping it up to five stars.
If you’re interested in learning more about Rosie Loves Jack, check it out on Goodreads. If you decide to buy a copy, please consider using my Amazon affiliate link: I’ll earn a few pennies from your purchase. Thank you!