Monday, 18 February 2013

Gracie and Josh

Gracie and Josh by Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Serena Geddes (Ford StreetPublishing)
HB RRP $26.95; PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1921665851
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

I remember exactly how and why I fell in love with the last book I read of Susanne Gervay, Ships in the Field. It was poignant, simple (but by no means simplified), effortlessly poetic and deep. So when Gracie and Josh, the latest released from this award-winning author, arrived in my mailbox I had high expectations of the story it would tell.

I was not disappointed. Not one single bit.

Gracie and Josh, is the touching tale of sister Gracie and brother Josh. They are just like any other brother and sister. They share tales, make each other laugh, poke fun at one another and spur each other on with Gracie, a budding actress, dressing up as a sausage legged spider for Josh’s film. Except for one difference – Josh is terminally ill and Gracie sits by her brother’s side hoping each day that it will be one of Josh’s good days, not a bad one. We experience the pain of the situation, but also the undivided love, comfort and support of this family as Gracie and her mother accompany Josh to the hospital, the subtleness in the anger Gracie feels when the doctors ask Josh to remove his favourite green striped beanie and in the hardness of their mother’s hand squeeze. It is subtleness that Gervay has absolutely mastered and her ability to write a story so painful and heartbreaking with such hope and love is truly incredible, making it an accessible read for primary school-aged children.

Gervay’s perfectly carved words are matched with the beautiful watercolour illustrations from Serena Geddes. The illustrations are full of character and truly capture the strength of the relationship between Gracie and Josh and her skill in harnessing the character’s facial expressions and emotions is striking and powerful. One of the most noteworthy illustrations sees Gracie by Josh’s bedside. Gracie’s mouth is agape, her face slightly panicked as she tries to show a ghostly looking Josh all the spiders she has found for him in books. The words are so sharp they cut through your heart: ‘Look Josh, the spider fell down sick times. But the spider didn’t give up. You have to try, try and try again.’ It is heart wrenching.

Gracie and Josh is a book about sticking together – through good and bad. It is about unconditional love and support, about resilience and about never giving up. It is a book that will make you turn to your family members and hug them. It is a book that you won’t easily forget.

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