All That's Bright and Gone by Eliza Nellums
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Telling any story through the eyes of a child is difficult; add in mental health issues, single parents, lost children, and financial constraints suddenly you've got yourself a pretty tragic story. Consider this your warning, All that's Bright and Gone is an amazing read; but it's darker and not necessarily a feel good story. That's not to say it's all bad; but overall you're likely to feel sadness through most of it. Eliza Nellums brings us the story of a child (and her imaginary friend) coping to handle her mother's mental illness, the loss of her older brother, and childhood in general.
Children Are Innocent
At the heart of this story is Aoife, a 6-year-old, who doesn't quite understand: the things going on around her, why she gets in trouble for talking to her imaginary friend, and that frozen chicken nuggets in the microwave are perhaps not a sustainable food for weeks on end. Right from the get go we realize that Aoife is a strong, resourceful little girl, who hates when adults say her name wrong. Her obsession with her name really struck me as genuine and conveyed the way children think well. Many times we are reminded that Aoife doesn't understand adults, health care or society the way we do. She is confused: why her Mom can't come home, scared for herself (and imaginary Teddy), and yet curious about her brother's death (whom no one will talk about).
The only criticism I might have is that Aoife sure is good at eavesdropping, or has the hearing of a superhero (lol). She is often found to be in just the right place to hear the adults talking. This is obviously a way for Nellums to easily convey the story to us without Aoife understanding what is said. But it does happen a few too many times for my liking.
This is a very poignant story portraying how mental health hurts surrounding the inflicted person. There is no ignoring it when down days happen, and there may be no reason why things strike someone the way they do. From the neighbour to Uncle Donny to (of course) Aoife herself; we see the drastic effects that the mother has on herself and those around her.
Twists and Turns
It might seem obvious what some of the twists and turns will be from the get-go. But I bet by three-quarters of the way the average person is so enthralled with Aoife and her perspective that they forget that her narration is from her eyes; and therefore may not be truly true. Anytime a child is the storyteller the reader needs to remember that they are unreliable. Aoife's voice is so strong at times that I would completely forget that her accounting of events or experiences weren't necessarily the truth. If you allow yourself to get lost with Aoife I think the twists and turns will hit you, like they did me.
Lies and the End
This is a wonderful story that reminds us that little kids always want their parents; even when said parent is ill or dangerous. All That's Bright and Gone brings out the darkness that many families try to hide and puts it on display smack dab in the middle of the street. Nellums does a great job of showing why we should always try to be honest with children. That lie, you think might keep them safe, may one day backfire. The more we lie to children the more we skew their interpretation of the world. Usually it's just best to tell the truth. Even when the truth is difficult, messy or undesirable. Nellums shows this so well by the end of the novel that I felt, as someone who tries to tell the truth to kids, that I wasn't doing enough (and I am not a parent) for the children in my life. And so I leave you with one of the (many) comments Aoife has about adults:
"Now that Dr. Pearlman pointed it out, grown-ups really do lie all the time."
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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