Review Blog

Aug 08 2011

Always Jack by Susanne Gervay

cover image

Angus and Robertson, 2010. ISBN 9780732290207.
Jack's back! Hero of I am Jack and Super Jack and his family, including Nanna (and her infamous purple underpants), are back in another story, this time dealing with a crisis that so many families face - breast cancer. Known for being the author who tackles the big issues, Susanne has drawn on her experiences as a breast cancer survivor to weave a story of how a family can receive such shattering news and then pull together to emerge stronger than ever.
The cover, by Cathy Wilcox, sets the scene perfectly. Jack is on his surfboard paddling on calm waters unaware of the big wave that has risen behind him and is about to come crashing down. His world, at the moment, consists of his scientific experiment with his ponto, his photography, his budding relationship with both Anna and soon-to-be brother Leo, and THE wedding between his mum and stepdad Rob. What happens when his mum receives the news after a routine mammogram makes for an intriguing and intimate look at this family's relationships and you soon understand that this disease is a family problem, not just a mum problem.
Initially, in her innate bid to protect the children, Jack's mum tells the children to keep it to themselves, not to worry and that she will be all right. But this is not what Jack and Samantha need to hear. They are worried, they need to tell their friends and they can clearly see mum is not all right so feel she is lying to them. They feel confused, powerless and shut out of this
Thing that is SO big that even the wedding is postponed. But Nanna has some remarkable advice that brings the family together and helps them endure the surgery and the subsequent radiation treatment so that it becomes almost a positive in their lives.
'Story gives children a voice', Susanne says, 'particularly in these sorts of circumstances. My job, as an educational psychologist and a storyteller is to give them that voice so that those around them know what they are thinking'
But this is not a sad , heavy book - Jack's zany jokes, his life-changing project on Vietnam with his friend Christopher, and his deep love for his sister despite the surface bickering, shine through to provide a positive, uplifting tale that leaves a real impact on the reader. It is not didactic but there is a powerful message both between and beyond the lines.
Endorsed by the Cancer Council NSW and the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre this book is an essential addition to your collection. But it is also an essential addition to the libraries of those organisations whose role is to support families
Affected by cancer so perhaps, as Christmas draws near, you might choose to donate a copy to them. My colleague and I gave one to our local McGrath Foundation breast care nurse. A percentage of the proceeds goes to the Cancer Council and the NBOCC so your purchase will touch so many lives.
If you are affected by this disease, the helpline number is 131120 and details of the National Screening program is at
Barbara Braxton

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