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  • Unreliable Child Narrator

    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. Mental Health 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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  • A Dreamlike Mystery!

    All That's Bright and Gone is a unique and charming début by Eliza Nellums, and from the first few words it held my attention. Told through the eyes of a six year old little girl named Aoife (pronounced Ee-fah), it was soul-stirring to be able to see matters through the perspective of a young girl. Aoife's brother Theo is dead, her mum, Siobhan, often becomes confused, and her best friend is an imaginary bear, called Teddy, that can grow to any size and also gets little Aoife into trouble on a regular basis. Aoife has another friend, Hannah, who lives next door and is two years older than herself. One day, Aoife's mum gets taken away, and Aoife is left in the care of her Uncle Donovan (Donny). Aoife knows that she needs to figure out who killed her brother so that her mum can come back home. She enlists the help of Hannah and together, they make a list of suspects and witnesses and write down clues. Hannah’s father is a detective, and Hannah has aspirations of being one herself, already believing in her own sleuthing skills. However, things are not straightforward, and there are a few twists, jostles and turns along the way. I was utterly charmed by this story, and the characterisation skills of Eliza Nellums were second to none. She did an amazing job relaying a child’s voice and thought processes. Reading All That's Bright and Gone from a six-year-old’s perspective added honesty, innocence and confusion about everything that goes on in the world. Little Aoife really left a mark on me and I delighted in her expressions and mannerisms, many of which made me smile, and I found that I wanted to protect her. Uncle Donovan made the perfect stand-in parent and did all he could to help her understand what was happening. This was a tender, special and beautifully written début that touched compassionately on topics such as faith in others, mental illness, religious faith, the importance of family, and the bond between mothers and daughters. A perfect, mesmerising, coming-of-age story full of poignancy, Eliza Nellums is one to watch. I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel, at my request, from Crooked Lane Books via NetGalley and this review is my own unbiased opinion.

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