Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Blast From the Past

In a blast from the past I'm going to write about two books that have taken a back burner and been out of the limelight for quite some time, which is a shame because they're two of my favourites and I'm very proud of them.

Both books are squarely Young Adult, although in a spoiler The Face in the Window has one really naughty phrase, which is shocking because Ace is generally such a nice, polite boy.

The books have a few things in common, in that all the protagonist are 16 or 17 years old and each book has a character with some kind of physical issue - I hesitate to say disability because they're both stubborn and won't see their issues as disabilities. 

In the Face in the Window, Ace is blind, but he refuses to let that hold him back. In Memories of Forgotten Love, Noah is recovering from a traumatic brain injury and struggles with physical weakness, speech problems and loss of memory. Yet he still manages to unravel a mystery even though the answers he seeks could be the death of him.

The Face in the Window was written deliberately as an examination of different kinds of love. Many are represented within the pages. The love of a mother for her son - in one case it is warm and nurturing, in the other fearful and inhibiting. The love of brothers - in one teasing but close, in the other jealous and bitter. The love of father and son - in one case supporting, in the other negating. The love of friends and family and, most importantly the love of one boy for another. It's a sweet, pure love that helps both of them overcome very different obstacles in their lives and in themselves. 

Haze - Ace's boyfriend - recognizing that although Ace is the one who is blind, he's the one who sees most clearly the path ahead and, far from being helpless, he was the one who saves Haze in so many different ways.

Haze described Ace to his parents and brothers, but days later they get a surprise

“His parents won’t let him go outside on his own, and he’s too frightened to go out with Logan and Nick now, so he’s effectively a prisoner in the house, locked in his room because he’s afraid.”
“Why won’t his parents let him go out?”
“And why doesn’t he go to our school?”
I was taken by surprise. “Because he’s blind,” I said as if it was obvious.
Everyone stared at each other and then at me. “I think that might be a little detail that slipped your mind when you were telling us about him, hun,” Mam said.
            I shrugged. “It’s not important [,,,]"

Ace is one of my favourite characters. Kept practically a prisoner by an overprotective mother, who is somewhat blind herself, albeit in a very different way, Ace begins to take tentative steps into the wide world reveling in his new freedom and showing Haze a whole new world he's never seen before. He brings the little details into sharp focus and they support each other exploring things, and lifting the mundane to a whole new level.

“Wow. Is that the sea? Are we close to the sea?”
“Very close.”
“What does it look like?”
“Like a very big puddle with waves.”
Ace laughed. “Seriously. Describe it to me.”
“Well…just in front of us there is a wide promenade…maybe sixty feet wide. It’s paved with pale beige sandstone. In the middle there is a compass inlaid into the floor, with gold lines and a rose coloured stone. To the right of the promenade there are rows of shops selling candyfloss, sweets that rot your teeth and are in weird, bizarre shapes and general tat, cheap knickknacks and souvenirs, stuff like that.
“To the left there is a stretch of scrub and then a mountain. And straight in front of you is the sea. We’re in a bay and so there are rocky outcrops on both sides so it’s a little like we are on one side of a large circle with the furthest edge torn away where all the water flows out into a huge body of water that stretches as far as you …um, I can see.
“The sun is high in the sky and it makes the wave crests sparkle like someone has frosted them with sugar. In the distance there is a large ship passing across the horizon and there are a couple of sailing boats within the bay.
“Is that good enough?”
Ace was staring out towards the sea with a rapt expression on his face, and he just nodded.

Ultimately, after going through some traumatic experiences during which Ace is the one who gave the support and a kick in the ass when necessary, Haze comes to realize Ace's blindness is no disability at all

As I sat in the car afterward, I realised just how much I had come to rely on Ace and how far he had led me. I let go of something else in the understanding of what a truly special person he is. It was a matter of responsibility again. I had started off feeling that I had to take care of Ace, and then I came to understand that he could take care of himself. There had been a slight blimp in the alley on that dark day, but not only did I recover the realisation that he could take care of himself but reached an entirely unexpected one that he could, would, and needed to take care of me too

 Memories of Forgotten Love is a very different book. Noah's disability is not one he's had since birth but arises from a terrible accident, neither is it permanent, but requires a lot of work to get over.

I wrote Memories after reading an article about how the media as a whole treat the issue of coma. In general the answer is badly. Coma patients do not just wake up, smile and get on with their lives. On the whole, waking up is a gradual process and very few people walk away with no after effects. I did a lot of research and set out to deliberately show what it's really like for someone waking up after a traumatic head injury.

No, my first memory kicks in about eight days later, after the drugs had worn off and they had taken the tube out of my throat…but not out of other places that were equally unpleasant. 

That first memory was one of enormous frustration. My mind was still very confused, very much under a blanket so to speak, but it was important to me that I made someone understand that I needed—I so badly needed—something. I still don’t know what it was, but at the time it was a burning need, an itch I couldn’t scratch. That was when it first hit me that, although my mind was awake—kind of—my body was taking some time to catch up. 

After all that time my muscles, which previously had been toned and primed, had become severely wasted, and I could barely manage to move my head and hand, let alone the rest of me. Not only that but, when I tried to speak, I found my throat sore and constricted, and I seemed to have forgotten how to form words. 

Words, sentences, thoughts, and ideas, which all seemed perfectly formed and sensible inside my head, came out as a jumble of incoherent grunts and sounds which, frankly, scared me. I had no idea at the time this was because of my head injury, or that I even had a head injury. I was only partially convinced I existed at all, although the pain helped with that. No one who didn’t exist could possibly be in so much pain. I hurt everywhere. 

As Noah improves he exists in a bubble. He knows he can't remember, can't recognize his family and friends...but he doesn't know, The realization comes as a shock

Something went ‘click’ inside my head and everything became very, very clear. “I…don’t remember. I…don’t…don’t remember… anything. I…don’t know who you are. I don’t know… who I…who I am.” 

“Fuck, Aiden. Now look what you’ve done.” 

I don’t know what Aiden said then; I don’t know what any of them said because I was flooded with a sense of absolute panic that blotted out everything but a single, overwhelming truth. I didn’t remember…anything. 

I have a brief recollection of there being people around, lots of them. People talking, people touching me…I have no idea what they said, what they did. I was lost in the panic, in the sea of horrified understanding. I didn’t know my own mother and father, I didn’t know my friends, I didn’t know myself. For me there was no life before I woke in the hospital, no existence other than the one I was experiencing right then and there. I was lost, completely lost.

As Noah's memories begin to return, mysteries return with it. Why is the boy who, by all accounts, was his best friend, acting so strangely? Why are certain subjects taboo? Why are people trying to divert him from asking important questions?

The answer to some of those questions comes as a huge shock

“No…I didn’t. I didn’t write the note. I couldn’t have. I…I wouldn’t have.” 

I looked up at him, at his grave face and kind eyes. I could see he didn’t believe me. Hell, I wouldn’t have believed me. How could I say that I didn’t write the note when I couldn’t remember anything? “But if…if I did…if I did write the note then…then I…Do you think that I…?” 

“It seems likely, Noah. You wrote the note and minutes later you were falling from your balcony and very nearly died. You haven’t seen the balcony. It has railings round it. It isn’t easy to fall from.” 

“So, you think I jumped.” 

“You still sound as though you don’t believe it.” 

“No, I don’t. You’re right…I don’t remember. I don’t remember anything, and I don’t know how I was feeling before…the accident. But I do know me. I do know the kind of person I am now and I can’t believe that it’s so different to who I was then. I’m not the kind of person who would kill themselves, no matter how bad things got. I’m a fighter.” 

“I know you are. That much is abundantly obvious. But even the strongest fighters sometimes get to a point where they can’t fight anymore.” 

“I didn’t.”

Determined to prove he wasn't suicidal, Noah continues to question, especially when his memories start to return and he begins to remember some startling things,

I turned to walk back inside and the figure loomed. He was big, dark, so dark, and then…I remembered the blow, the fist coming from nowhere and catching me on the side of the chin, knocking me backward. I slammed into the railings and…and suddenly, they weren’t there any more, swinging out like a gate, tipping me over the edge and I was flying. There had been no time to cry out, no time to think, no time for fear. There had been no time…and then there had been nothing. 

Gasping, I fell to my knees, holding my head in my hands. Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck. I hadn’t jumped. I hadn’t fallen. Someone had hit me, and hit me hard. It was that… it was them. But who? This was too much…too much for me. I had to talk to someone, had to tell someone. And there was really only one person that could be. 

The truth brings a host of new problems and puts both he and Luke at risk

Suspiciously, I took the device out of his hand and pressed it to my ear. At first, I heard nothing, then something that sounded like a slap in the background, followed by a low moan, and then nothing but strange, heavy breathing. 

“What the hell are you playing at? What is this?” 

“No…ah?” The voice sounded strange, distant and breathy, but there was no mistaking who it was. 

“Luke? What’s going on? Where are you?” 

“Noah…Noah, I…I…” 

“Luke? What’s wrong?” 

A voice that I didn’t recognise spoke in the background. “Say nighty night to Noah, beautiful. Time to go beddybyes.” 

Luke groaned, and then the strange voice spoke again, closer, into the speaker. “Hello, Noah.” 

“Who the hell are you? What are you doing to Luke? Let me speak to him again.” 

“Sorry, sweetcheeks, but Luke’s not feeling too good right now. Don’t worry; we’ll take good care of him.” 

“You bastards…what the fuck!?” 

“Now, now, there’s no need for that. We won’t hurt your boyfriend—at least as long as you are a good boy [...]” 

“Fuck you! I swear to God you hurt him…you harm him in any way and I’ll take you apart.” 

“Calm down, Noah. Didn’t I tell you that we won’t hurt him? We’ll have a great time together. We’ll warm him up nicely for you. [...]"

Of course, things work out in the end, but not before Noah and Luke have to fight for their love and their lives, to find a happy ending.

Both of these books have strong themes and strong characters. The boys have to go through what sometimes seem like insurmountable obstacles to get to their happy endings. Sometimes the feel as if there's nothing to look forward to, that their problems will never go away. Sometimes they feel they just can't go on. But they do go and, and things do get better.

Remember, in life nothing is guaranteed; nothing is set in stone. Everything changes; the good and the bad, and it's often difficult to see where such changes can come from or where they can lead, but come they will. Even blind Ace can look into the future and see better things. For him the Change was Ace. For Noah the change was the accident, but they both came to the same place in the end - if not a happy ever after then at least a happy for now, and for a long time to come

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