Someone has to keep their head, as Mum used to say, and 11-year-old Martha is used to being that someone in her family. Her little brother, Tug, is too small. Her dad has been acting too strange. And Mum's not here anymore.So when Dad falls off the roof, it's Martha who ices his knee and takes him to the doctor. And when Dad doesn't come home, it's Martha who cooks Tug's favorite pie and reads him his bedtime story. And when Dad passes out, it's Martha who cleans him up and keeps his secret. But eventually Dad's problems become too big for even Martha to solve, and she realizes it's not all up to her—there are people and places she can turn to.
First off, can I just address that the cover shown above is WAY misleading... way too cutesy for the topics this story addresses. Below is the cover I have:
That's a little better. So about this story -- it looks at the life of 11 year old Martha. Martha's mother passed away just a few years back, so it's just Martha trying to be the woman of the house, living with her father and younger brother. While she's still struggling with sadness from the loss of her mother, the family is managing well enough... at least for a time. Then cracks start to show. Martha's father starts to get bad about just wandering off at odd times, leaving his kids to fend for themselves for hours at a time and with no notice of his whereabouts. This sometimes leads to him getting in dangerous situations that Martha has to help get him out of. Pretty heavy stuff for a girl not even in her teen years yet!
But the heaviness doesn't quit there, y'all. Nope, the reader also gets smacked with themes of depression and battles with alcoholism -- the disease itself, the hiding of it, the denial, the rocky road to accepting help or rehab.
Martha's an impressively resilient kid but it broke my heart reading her struggle to keep it all together at her age -- checking out adult books on alcoholism on a children's library card, trying to help her father process his own widower grief, Martha's own breakdown when things get especially low. I so wanted to hug this character, knowing the story well having grown up with an alcoholic father myself.
I definitely think this little novel can serve as an important tool for kids in a similar situation looking for something they can relate to and maybe pull inspiration from -- because while thankfully this story doesn't end ugly, it does definitely lean on the idea of "it's gonna get worse before it can get better.". While I appreciated the topics and potential discussion material the main story brought up, at times I was SO grateful for the comedic relief of Martha's precocious friend Marcus. Marcus who's one of those 11 going on 45 types, has his heart set on becoming a big-time Hollywood director, constantly putting together homemade theatrical productions, filming them, creating costumes, pulling inspiration from classic silver screen films. His Rex Harrison-esque personality had me smiling just when I needed a break from the heavy.
Note To Readers: There are a few spoilers to other novels within this book's plotline. So heads up if these are on your future reading list, spoilers present for Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.