Thursday 12 March 2020


      Wink by Rob Harrell, (Angus & Robertson), 2020, RRP $19.99 pb
      ISBN: 9781460758878 (paperback)
      ISBN: 97814607`2610 (ebook)

      Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

      Based on Rob Harrell’s real-life experience, this is the story of Ross Maloy, a seventh grader diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer. In most respects Ross is an ordinary teenager living in the U.S., with a crush on a cute girl and an understandable fear of the class bully. He’d like to blend in, but his cancer makes him visible. Ross can’t help remembering how his mother died from cancer when he was four.

After receiving a horrific first diagnosis, Ross’s dad finds an amazing doctor with a more hopeful approach. The doctor believes Ross can eventually be cancer free, though he will have impaired vision. The treatment, painstakingly recorded, causes Ross to lose his hair. The skin around his eye dries up and he has to use a particularly icky ointment.         

One of Ross’s best friends drops him, unable to handle the difficult situation. Luckily there’s still his other best friend, Abby - until she announces that her family is leaving town.

Ross’s life is made even more difficult when someone starts sending hurtful memes to his class-mates’ phones. Memes are pictures or photos that have been altered in some way and text added. The nastiest shows the Grim Reaper holding up a sign with the word ‘Ross’.

In the midst of this darkness, the radiation technician from the hospital agrees to teach Ross to play the guitar. Music becomes a real positive. It gives Ross fun, hope, and an unlikely friend.
Rob Harrell is the author-illustrator of several graphic novels. Alongside the harrowing descriptions of Ross’s life are really funny cartoons paralleling what he’s going through. There are also lots of amusing extra illustrations throughout the text.

The characters, and their reactions, are sympathetically drawn. I particularly liked Linda, Ross’s stepmom, who doesn’t really know how to make things better but tries hard.

Wink is poignant, heartbreaking and hilarious by turns. It’s an uplifting story of survival and finding the comfort of music and laughter. Recommended for middle grade readers.

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