Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon

The Blurb On The Back:

They can’t send you away. What will we do? We need us. I stop your angry, Jack. And you make me strong. You make me Rosie.

Rosie loves Jack. Jack loves Rosie.

So when they’re separated, Rosie will do anything to find the boy who makes the sun shine in her head.

Even run away from home.

Even struggle across London and travel to Brighton, though the trains are cancelled and the snow is falling.

Even though people might think a girl with Down’s syndrome could never survive on her own.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

16-year-old Rose Tremayne has Down’s syndrome but she’s been raised to be as independent as possible, going to college in Henley-on-Thames and works shifts at the local supermarket on the weekend. She lives with her younger brother, Ben, her mum and dad and their dog, Winniebago, but the real light in her life is Jack – a boy in her year at college who has anger management problems due to suffering a brain injury when he was young. Rose and Jack have been dating for several months now, although Rose’s dad doesn’t approve because he’s concerned that Jack’s anger means he might hurt Rose by accident.

And then the worst thing happens: Jack has a meltdown at college and is sent away to a facility in Brighton to get his anger under control. Rose’s parents see this as a chance to split the two up for good and refuse to give Rose the postcards that Jack has been sending her. Furious, Rose decides that she’ll go to see Jack herself and with the unwitting help of her best friend Lou, decides to take the train into London and then out to Brighton so that she can visit him. But Rose’s journey coincides with a terrible snowstorm that leaves her stranded in London on her own. Soon she discovers the best and the worst that people can be as she tries to continue her journey …

It’s difficult to review Mel Darbon’s debut YA contemporary romance. Although she convincingly portrays a young girl with Down’s syndrome as a person with ambitions and emotions, a sex trade plotline struck me as implausible and seemed to show Rosie more as a victim driven by others than by her own desires, which undermined her agency such that the book ends up being about the reactions to Rosie and how they drive her than about Rosie herself.

Darbon was moved to write the book because her younger brother Guy was born with Autism Spectrum Disorder and she grew up seeing the awful reactions some people had to him. In this book, I think she really captures Rosie as a character who is more than her Down’s syndrome and I liked the fact that central to this story is the love between her and Jack and how Rosie focuses both on what she loves about Jack and how she helps him with his anger and how Jack helps her to come out of her shell and be more than is. Had the book been structured as a straightforward romance with the two having to deal with their respective conditions and the concerns that their families have for them and what their romance means, I think I would have liked the book a lot more (and I do wish that there’d been more of the couple on the page beyond Rosie’s memories of how they got together because I wanted to see more interaction between them than the way they’re being kept apart).

However what Darbon actually does is structure it as a broken journey that’s there to highlight how strangers react to seeing someone with Down’s and although for the most part she does a decent job of showing the range of reactions (from benign concern to abuse to people who only see Rosie as someone they can use for their own ends) the effect of that, for me, was to actually remove Rosie’s agency from her. This is particularly the case in the scene where she meets and is taken off by Paris (a damaged girl in an abusive relationship who doesn’t stop to think about Rosie as a person) but especially in a sex trade storyline with Janek who happens upon Rosie and decides he will pimp her out. To be honest, that storyline did not make sense to me at all – mainly because it seemed a massive risk for Janek to decide to take her on an apparent whim – and the whole thing seemed set up to show how there are people out there willing to exploit and take advantage of people with disabilities, which – while undoubtedly true – seemed particularly heavy-handed in this book. The whole plot line also emphasises how vulnerable Rosie is and how for all her desire to be independent and to do whatever she puts her mind to, she actually can’t do it because some things are beyond her understanding and she is emotionally vulnerable to people showing her kindness. That left me very uncomfortable.

I did believe in Rosie’s relationship with her parents and Darbon does well at capturing how they want to do the best for her but at the same time are afraid to let her do too much of what she wants to do in case she gets hurt. I really wanted to see more of Rosie’s friendship with Lou and also more with Jack because at times her love for him does seem to be based on the fact that he’s good looking and I wanted to see more of what he does for her and how he shares his love beyond the postcards.

Ultimately, there were things that I liked about this book but taken as a whole it didn’t quite work for me. Saying that though, I would definitely check out Darbon’s next book on the strength of this one.

ROSIE LOVES JACK was released in the United Kingdom on 6th September 2018. Thanks to Usborne Books for the review copy of this book.

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