Gone and Back Again is a young adult novel by Jonathon Scott Fuqua. I love reading YA for the simple reason that they always have relevancy in todays world and this was no different.
The story is about eleven year old Caleb, the middle child and his dysfunctional family where the parents are divorced and both remarried. The father is an alcoholic who is a different person every time the children saw him. He is married to a woman with her own children who wishes Caleb and his brother Fulton and sister Louise would vanish. The mother is a depressive described as ” She’d changed after the divorce. It was like her goodness and affectionateness seemed to be hibernating or were gone.” She had an abusive new husband who didn’t seem to be able to succeed at any job he tried and consequently kept uprooting the family to try again.
With each successive move Caleb’s own mental state worsened and depression deepened. Initially he described the inside of his head, “it [sic] pounded and felt packed full of wild flapping birds. They smashed around in my skull as if they were dizzy and confused….” At an early age he was a thief, and alcoholic and although he managed to pull himself out of the downward spiral but he was unable to halt the depression as easily.
Fuqua’s characterisations are real and the reader can’t help but become involved emotionally in the story. I know I started off disliking Fulton but found my feelings towards him changing as the story progressed. Like this picture that was hanging in a restaurant (I couldn’t understand them hanging it other than to give you food for thought) – you knew where that child was going and you knew life was going to be tough. Caleb’s mental issues were just as understandable and you wanted to shake a few of the adults in his life.
Unlike this picture, in Gone and Back Again there was an underlying hint of the resilience Caleb owned and there were many endearing moments and humour which made the pain bearable. There was always hope.
This book touched on a difficult subject – that of neglect, alcoholism, melded families, dysfunctional families and mental illness in a way that compelled you to read, feel and hope. These subjects affect so many of our young people today and I have no doubt if they read this they would feel as though they weren’t alone and that there is hope.
Would I recommend this book – I certainly would and I’d love to know what you think.