NON-FICTION BOOK REVIEWS

The Invisible Child by Andrea Elliott

I have to confess I was at first put off starting this book by its length and seemingly bleak subject matter.  Luckily a mild dose of Covid gave me the time to dive in, and I’m so grateful I did.  Invisible Child is one of those eye-opening, life-changing books that you want to press into the hands of everyone you meet.

Journalist Andrea Elliott, has done a remarkable thing in telling the story of Dasani Coates and her family living in poverty in New York.  As the eldest girl, she is, to a large extent, parenting her seven siblings before she even starts High School. 

Over the course of almost ten years, Elliott bore witness to the family’s struggles with addiction, homelessness and poverty, always showing a clear-eyed honesty but no judgement.  At times, she uses the Coates extended family to explore the history of slavery, through to the great migration north to New York, and the process of gentrification in Brooklyn, but always brings the reader back to Dasani’s story.

Bright and fierce in equal measure, Dasani wins a funded place at the Milton Hershey Boarding School in Pennsylvania.  There she must submit to the school structure, but her love for her family in New York is never far away and a phone call home is often a trigger to derail her progress. 

Heart-breaking, frustrating, and inspirational, this is a deeply personal journey into the realities of navigating a life in poverty, often dictated by the labyrinthine dysfunctional bureaucracy of social care in NYC.

If you loved Educated by Tara Westover, please read Invisible Child, you won’t regret meeting Dasani or her family.

The Familia Grande by Camille Kouchner (trans. Adriana Hunter)

‘Guild is like a snake … you don’t always know when it will lash out and paralyse you. My guilt is my twin.’ Camille Kouchner

This book caused a sensation when it was published in France in 2021 and it’s not hard to see why. Camille Koucher was in her forties before she felt able (or at liberty) to write her story of family abuse, suicide, shame and guilt. But stay with me, this is an extraordinary memoir, one to read in a single, transfixed sitting; it is hard hitting, although the most painful episodes are ‘off-camera’.

Only after her mother’s death in 2017, when she was buried without any of her five children in attendance, did Koucher feel able to tell the story of her familia grande. She describes a childhood that was full of glamorous, sun-drenched holidays at the family house, Sanary-sur-Mer, surrounded by cousins, and including much of France’s left wing intellectual elite, most particularly, her stepfather, Olivier Duhamel.

Written with such love and pain, La Familia Grande lays bare the last taboo of incest, sparking a national debate in France and the hashtag #metooincest. While the subject matter may be sensational, the writing is direct, elegant, and heartbreakingly honest. You have to keep looking up to remind yourself it’s not a novel, but very much reality.

Wreck by Tom de Freston

Tom de Freston writes about his lifelong obsession with Gericault’s masterpiece; Raft of the Medusa. It is beautifully researched and told with such passion that one cannot fail to become a little obsessed too.

More than that however, is the way it resonates with our own world of refugees fleeing war-torn countries. An engaging and apposite read

Picturebook Makers by Sam McCullen

This is an amazing showcase of some of the world’s best picture book illustrators. It is a very fun but wildly interesting book to delve into, revealing the picture book’s immense creative potential.

Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn

I loved this book for its observations of nature and the magical ability it has to thrive in the most unlikely places. Flyn writes beautifully about the abandoned eerie corners of our world and the power of nature to reclaim what was once its own. This is a unique and reflective read that is essential reading in our times of climate crisis and offers some hope that nature can prevail.

Quite by Claudia Winkleman

A very light-hearted and refreshing book written by a woman with such self-assurance, on all things from squirrell etiquette to the brilliance of winter, that it will delight you and make you smile through every chapter.

This is the paper version of that over-enthusiastic friend who gives you advice even though you did not ask for it, but you still take it all onboard and thank them for it, because you know that one day it will come in handy.

The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes

Enlightening and enraging in equal measure, Nick Hayes’ book is a must read for anyone interested in ‘ownership’ of the countryside. It gives a well researched history of how this green and pleasant land was divided up, fenced off and removed from use for the majority of the population (93% of England is privaetly owned)

 With lockdown demonstrating beyond doubt the importance of nature to our mental health and obesity being cited as a major contributing facort in covid deaths, it should be abundantly clear the access to the countryside is not only a human right but essential to well-being.

It is exceptionally well written and The Book of Trespass could not be more timely, no-one owns the earth but we are all care-takers with a vested interest in it’s survival.