Getting inside the head of a girl with Down’s Syndrome and a boy with autism is not easy, but Mel Darbon is more than qualified. She grew up with an autistic brother and did considerable research to find out more about Down’s Syndrome to craft her well-told novel.
The result is one of those charming love stories that comes along only once in while.
Rosie Tremayne has Down’s Syndrome. The boy she loves is Jack Darcy and he has a form of autism. When they are separated, Rosie will do anything to find the beautiful-looking boy who makes “the sun shine inside her head”. She’ll even cross London and take enormous risks to get to his parents’ home in Brighton.
It was not the kind of book I ever expected to read, but I was hooked from the first few pages of "Rosie Loves Jack" - savouring the story and the beautiful phrases and thoughts of two young adults reaching out to each other.
While it targets teens, it’s a good idea to read it regardless of your age because we all need some lessons on accepting and understanding “otherness”.
When Rosie falls for Jack, they slowly take to each and, as their love intensifies, so does their time together and they soon become inseparable. It seems love does conquer all.
These two teens, each with challenges that set them apart, show that, despite the odds, their hearts beat the same way as “normal” people’s do.
Rosie is visibly different with her Down’s features, but she is a bright and eager girl who does her best, with some parental love and care, to get along.
Jack is a good-looking boy, but sometimes his emotions run away with him. In one of these instances, he has to return home - away from his beloved Rosie.
But she can’t live without him. And in the snow and freezing weather she travels across London on her own to get to him.
Rosie takes trains, manages to work out the routes and stays in a hostel. She falls foul of unscrupulous youngsters and wicked adults, who exploit her situation. But with courage, and a little help from some decent people, she escapes some tricky situations.
The young couple also write to each other, and it’s an emotional roller-coaster to read the charming letters, which speak of a love and mutual respect so deep it could teach others a thing or two.
In the end it’s a race against time as she reaches Brighton just in time to get to Jack and, as all good stories do, it has a breathless but feel-good finale.
The story’s background is partly based on fact.
Darbon spent a large part of her childhood inventing stories to keep her autistic brother occupied on car journeys.
She writes at the conclusion of the book: “I couldn’t understand why people were so judgemental. I wanted to tell them to put my brother’s shoes on for a moment and try to comprehend what it must be like to be him, locked in a frightening world that made no sense, where something like a flight of stairs can paralyse him; a world where even sleep holds no respite I knew that one day I would give my brother Guy a voice”
She also writes: “I hope my story helps people understand those with Down’s Syndrome and that they will see how emotionally open and kind they are, and, like everyone else - how they deserve to follow their dreams.
And in this book they do a delightfully heart-warming read that should be required reading for all of us to accept and understand that it takes all kinds of love to make the world go round.