Look at the word quickly then look away. Now, close your eyes and try to spell it.
Bet you couldn’t.
Neither could I.’
For a novel set on teenage cancer ward, In Bloom is a remarkably uplifting novel. As a dad of boys, I was wary about reading a book chronicling a child’s battle with leukaemia. I’d be lying if I said this book isn’t sad, because it is, but it’s also funny and life affirming.
Somewhere in the cover quotes there is a comparison to Adrian Mole, and Francis Wootton is just like him. Intelligent, awkward and not terribly popular, Francis has a singular view of the world, yet one that remains typical of all boys his age. Crow captures the aura of self-possession mixed with insecurity that comes with that age and the selfish naivety that comes from thinking that a) the world is against you and b) you know everything about everything.
Francis tells the story of his battle with leukaemia and his life-changing relationship with Amber, a fellow sufferer. It’s a tale of hope, despair and true-love.
Characterisation is sound throughout. Amber and Francis are beautifully rendered. Solid and believable. The supporting cast are the same high quality. The other patients on the ward add great colour whilst Francis and Amber’s families flesh out the story brilliantly. I loved the relationships of both children with their mothers, and the wary friendship between the two women is wonderfully realised.
For me though, as a father of boys, it’s the relationship between Francis and his brother Chris that both made the book and broke my heart. The love and camaraderie they share is something I hope to see from my own children. The shared experiences and familiar jokes they play on one another give the novel an added dimension and their bond is deeply touching.
In Bloom is a funny book with a narrator that reminded me of my 2013 favourite Alex Woods. Francis’s self-absorbed geeky world view is used for some long laughs, much as Alex’s was. Yet though there is comedy a plenty, there is a darker side of the book too. Cancer is a bastard and in children it’s almost too cruel for comment. Crow opens up a dialogue in this thoughtful, heartfelt book. Highly recommended.
Many Thanks to Grace at Much in Little for sending me a copy of this book.