I recently posted this review of Matthew Crow’s excellent YA novel In Bloom. It is an examination of the devastating effects of teenage cancer. Poignant yet never maudlin, the narrator of In Bloom, Francis Wootton, is a current day Adrian Mole. Francis is funny, often when he’s not meaning to be, and above all he is eminently likeable.
One of the things I most enjoyed about the novel is the relationship between Francis and his brother, Chris. As a dad of three boys, it is one of my sincerest hopes that they all get along once they are grown up. If they loved each other as much as Francis and Chris do then I will have done my job well. The extract I have chosen exemplifies their bond as Chris tries to ease the pain of one of the side effects of Francis’ chemotherapy.
I pressed it first to the front of his head and began slowly pulling it back from his fringe. The razor made a different sound as it sliced through the first few strands of hair, and became harder to pull. Chris’s shoulders tensed as I dragged the blades back towards the crown of his head.
Then I stopped and remembered everything I had meant to say before.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said, holding the razor tightly in place. ‘I’m sorry, I’m really sorry.’ I didn’t say what for. Didn’t say that I was sorry I was ill. That I was sorry he and Mum had to be there all the time, and had to worry all the time. Didn’t say that I was sorry that everything had changed because of me, and that Chris’s hair was being ruined just because mine was. I just said sorry, and hoped that he’d be able to work out the rest for himself.
Everyone went quiet except for the razor, which kept buzzing like a bee trapped in a jam-jar.
Amber looked at me worriedly and at Chris, who tensed and then flinched.
‘It’s OK,’ he said, holding up his hand and taking the razor from me.
He stood up, still holding the razor against his head, so that I could lie back down.
Bloody hell, Francis, it’s stuck,’ he said, yanking hard at the blades. ‘Jesus, it really is! I’m serious . . .’
Amber put her hand over her mouth to stop herself from laughing. Chris yanked at the razor and swore at the top of his voice as it ripped some hair from his head. A smooth runway of pink flesh led from his forehead to the crown of his head. He grabbed a mirror, looking panicked, and swore again as he observed the damage.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said between giggles once Chris began to smirk even though I could tell he was gutted. ‘I’m really sorry.’
‘What’s going on?’ Mum said, coming back with a coffee. She had put on more make-up since she’d been gone and looked better for it.
‘Sweeney Todd here developed a conscience halfway across my skull, that’s what,’ Chris said, slumping down on my bed as he teased his fingers over the bald patch, and grimaced.
Mum put down her coffee cup and stepped back to look at him. Amber had her head in her hands and her shoulders were jigging up and down like she was being electrocuted. Every so often she’d be still and take in a deep breath before carrying on with her hysterics. At first Mum just held her hand to her mouth. I thought she was going to cry again, which would have killed the mood, but instead she smiled, and then let out one sly giggle.
‘Sorry,’ she said, and then laughed again. ‘Oh, you stupid sod,’ she said, and burst out laughing, laughing like she hardly ever did, laughing like no one was watching. She laughed so hard she had tears in her eyes, and her nose began to run. Even though she could hardly breathe for laughing she kissed Chris on the head where his hair used to be, then did the same to my head. When she did I could feel her lipstick smear across my skin like a slug’s trail.
‘My bonny lads,’ she said, sitting down on the bed next to me as she tried to get her breath back, ‘what am I going to do with you, eh?’
Many Thanks to Grace at Much in Little for asking me to be on the blog tour.