“A torn jacket is soon mended, but hard words bruise the heart of a child.”
– Henry Wordsworth Longfellow
You Don’t Even Know by Sue Lawson was a recommendation from a friend who has impeccable reading taste. I have never been disappointed with anything she has suggested and this one was no exception. Please note, this one comes with a tissue warning… You will need them!
When Alex wakes up from a coma, he is in hospital with no recollection of how or why he is there. Told through alternating chapters from the past and present, we learn more and more about Alex’s life before the accident. Life at home with his family is difficult; his brother and father are bullies and no matter how hard Alex works at school, swimming or water polo, it is never enough. The light of his life is his little sister Mia however it becomes apparent that something bad happened to her at some point. When Alex wakes, he meets his roommate Mackie; she is also in a coma, suffering from terminal cancer. Alex begins to talk to her despite his self-consciousness. He also discovers her scrapbook and even though she can’t talk back, he begins to learn more and more about her life. It turns out they are both trapped in a life they can’t escape, lonely and grieving; Mackie, for the life she will never live and Alex, for the one he has to live without.
As the reader learns more about Alex and his accident, it is unclear as to whether it was intentional or not. Told with unflinching honesty, we learn just how rough Alex’s life was before. He is the victim of ceaseless bullying and an incredibly heavy burden; the guilt and pain he suffers from losing a loved one. Talking to Mackie – even if it is one-sided – allows Alex to work out who he is and helps him to face the memories as they return. The hardest part is when he has to stand up to his family and tell them the truth. It is devastating – for Alex, his family and the reader.
I love this book for many reasons. Alex is an unusual male protagonist; we are allowed to see him vulnerable and emotional without any shame. Apart from wondering how creepy it is talking to Mackie when she sleeps, he isn’t censored in any way. His courage is formidable once he works out what he needs to do; confronting loved ones certainly isn’t an easy task! Sue Lawson doesn’t mess around with her characters; the reader feels sorry for Alex and all she puts him through! This is a wonderful book that will tug on the heartstrings from beginning to end but I promise it is all worth it!