Friday, May 31, 2019

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers - Brian Conaghan

Summary: Child experts will tell you that I'm way too young to carry such a burden of responsibility on my tender shoulders. But really, what do they know?' Who is Bobby Seed? He's just your average sixteen-year-old - same wants, same fears, same hang-ups. Dull, dull, dull. But then there's the Bobby Seed who's a world away from average. The Bobby Seed who has to wipe his mum's backside, sponge her clean three times a week, try to soothe her pain. The Bobby Seed whose job it is to provide for his younger brother, Danny, to rub his back when he's stressed and can only groan and rock instead of speak. That's Bobby Seed. Same, same, same, yet different, different, different ... (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  One of the things I have enjoyed about listening to the podcast by Kirkus Reviews, “Fully Booked,” is that that they feature books that are from a wide variety of points of view from around the world—diverse authors, books that address experiences that are not common or if they are common, are not always addressed, etc. The Weight of a Thousand Feathers is just such a book. The story features an older teenage boy who is the caregiver to his mother who is struggling with advanced MS. He is also the caregiver of his younger brother. As with many sad and progressive illnesses such as MS, the situation is not going to get any better. We know the outcome. It is inevitable. How it comes about and how soon is, of course, the unknown, but the outcome is not unknown.


I thought this book was really well-done. It was really sad, of course, but it was also hopeful and inspiring. I am constantly struck by people in very difficult situations and their resilience and selflessness. This is obviously such a book, as the situation warrants difficult discussions and hard topics to read about and discuss. I thought the author did a great job of creating a realistic-feeling situation where a young man would be faced with very difficult but very real situations in the face of being a caregiver, with equal parts of responsibility and also resentment and also love. It’s a strange dichotomy, of course, being a caregiver, and it is magnified when the caregiver is a minor and is taking care of his mother and his little brother.

I appreciated this book because it made the care-giving feel all-encompassing, as I’m assuming it would be, especially for a boy as young as this. It would be a burden and yet, this boy was still faced with normal teenager-like situations: school, friends, love interests, the future. The author was able to create a rich environment that felt both stifling but also really normal for a boy, which would be the dichotomy of being a teenage caregiver.

There were only a few characters in this book that were well-developed, but I think that that helped create the illusion of a closed-in world, such as it would feel if you were a primary caregiver to an ailing parent. You would know a few people and trust a few people, and everyone else would just be kind of peripheral as you tried to deal with your own reality. There wasn’t space and emotional energy for anyone else. I didn’t miss having other well-developed characters. I felt like the ones we knew were in equal proportion to their importance in the life of the main characters.

The most difficult situation, of course, was when the mother asked her son to help her end her life. (This is not a spoiler; this is on the description of the book, FYI). What goes through the mind and thoughts of both sons was hard to read and yet relatable. These situations are never easy, are they? Nothing seems cut and dry when faced with the situation these boys were facing. It certainly complicates everything. There is much dialogue in regard to this, and I feel like the author did a good job of helping the reader understand the impossibility of the issue and yet the obviousness of the answer.

I found this to be a powerful, enlightening, and emotional book. I think that older teens would benefit from reading it. It’s really scary because of a dying parent, but it would create a great degree of empathy in helping the reader understand that we don’t always know what others are going through, and that being kind and understanding and giving people a chance is very important. I feel like my young teen would have a hard time with some of the content, both emotionally and just maturity-wise.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is discussion of sex, same-sex attraction and some same-sex love scenes, as well as drugs, language, and the dying and death of a parent. I wouldn’t let my young teen read this, although I do think that older high schoolers could benefit from it.

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