Reviewed by Janine Cobain
Francis Wootton's first memory is of Kurt Cobain's death, and there have since been other hardships much closer to home.
At fifteen years old he already knows all about loss and rejection - and to top it all off he has a permanently broke big brother, a grandma with selective memory (and very selective social graces) and a mum who's at best an acquired taste. Would-be poet, possible intellectual, and definitely wasted in Tyne and Wear, Francis has grown used to figuring life out on his own.
Lower Fifth is supposed to be his time, the start of an endless horizon towards whatever-comes-next. But when he is diagnosed with leukaemia that wide-open future suddenly narrows, and a whole new world of worry presents itself.
There's the horror of being held back a year at school, the threat of imminent baldness, having to locate his best shirt in case a visiting princess or pop-star fancies him for a photo-op . . . But he hadn't reckoned on meeting Amber - fierce, tough, one-of-a-kind Amber - and finding a reason to tackle it all - the good, the bad, and everything in between - head on.
In Bloom is a bright, funny, painful, and refreshing novel about wanting the very best from life, even when life shows you how very bad it can be. It is a novel about how to live.
I did not expect a story about a teenager developing leukaemia to be funny and although it felt slightly wrong at first, I just couldn’t help but laugh! The tale is set in Tyne & Wear and being from the North-east originally I was reading the dialogue in Geordie accent which tickled me to start with. I attempted to read aloud to my husband a particularly raucous moment and ended up with tears of laughter streaming down my face and my voice at a pitch only audible to dogs!
At fifteen years of age Francis Wootton is comfortable in his socially awkward ‘geek’ status as he is fully aware he only has this label because he is far more sophisticated than his peers. He fully expects to be seen as a ‘tortured-poet’, once he has the requisite facial hair. A strong mother, doting grandma, a particularly close relationship with his older brother and token best friend are all he needs to get by until he reaches his creative peak. However, when illness strikes the novelty status wears off quickly but when he goes into hospital to begin the gruelling treatment, quite unexpectedly his love life blossoms.
Matthew Crow quite simply has an amazing talent. While the characters are given life and substance through his fabulous style of writing, he must be commended for the way significant happenings are documented and yet their importance is completely missed by the protagonist. The fight against cancer and the love affair that entwines his treatment are described with a gentle simplicity that is endearing and believable, without resorting to hysteria or dramatics.
Although peppered with hilarity, the bittersweet ending had me shedding tears and the emotionally journey was finished with a beautiful ending that raised a smile. A remarkable read; hilarious, touching and painfully sad with strong, earthy characters that feel like family.
I'd like to thank Saskia at Constable & Robinson for sending Janine a copy of this book to review, and Janine for another fab review.