Run away from what they see. Discover who you are.
'What the World Doesn't See' by Mel Darbon is an exceptional YA book, deserving of the highest praise. It is a compassionate, raw, poignant story about grief and transcending appearances in order to be seen, accepted and ultimately loved. It is utterly engrossing, emotionally intelligent and powerfully written. This is a top book of 2023 and should surely receive every accolade going.
Maudie and Jake's family is falling to pieces - their mum's been struggling with her grief since they lost Dad and one night she vanishes. When Jake is put into care, Maudie can't take it any more. She comes up with a wild plan to pull their family back together - by kidnapping Jake. On the run in Cornwall, Jake and Maudie each find something they hadn't expected - freedom and love. But can they find Mum and a way to heal together?
What is first striking and so absorbing about 'What the World Doesn't See' is the dual narrative of Maudie and Jake; their voices authentic and tender in prose that is flowing, powerful and engaging. The love between the siblings is captivating through the struggles they face, as they run away in a desperate attempt to find their mum. Jake is a wonderful character whose disability is captured with profound empathy and insight, and made more poignant given this is a tribute to Mel Darbon's own brother, Guy, who sadly died last year before the book came out. But Mel Darbon absolutely, beautifully honours the memory of her brother by giving him a voice through Jake. And while every disability is unique, 'What the World Doesn't See' makes space for and brings huge understanding to those with disabilities who aren't often seen. We need more fiction that represents the diversity of disabilities in this way.
This is also a story about grief, as Jake and Maudie (and their mum) are still coming to terms with the loss of their Dad. This is written with such sensitivity and yearning, and is just so touching. At its core, this story is about seeing and hearing people's hurt and struggles with unconditional love and empathy, without judgement too. With Maudie's love interest, we also see how new relationships can bring about unexpected, shared understanding. With this, there is an enormous amount of hope; that not everyone needs to struggle on without being seen.
'What the World Doesn't See' is simply wonderful, and a book everyone ought to read this year.