How to make friends with the dark by Kathleen Glasgow

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HarperCollins, 2019. ISBN: 9781460751060.
(Age: Senior secondary) Tiger (Grace) Tolliver's life will forever be divided into 'before' and 'after' her mum died. Before, she was a normal 16 year old, only child of a devoted, if overprotective, mum. They were poor but happy and while Tiger was sometimes bullied at school, her best friend Cake looked out for her and they, along with friend Kai formed the band Broken Candle. Then, after Tiger has a fight with her mum about letting her go to the school dance, her mum dies from a brain aneurism. Tiger is racked with guilt. 'I would never . . . have left my mother to die alone. That's the sort of thing a bad daughter would do' p43. But Tiger's life 'after', continues in a haze of grief. She is taken into foster care and experiences first-hand the world of children with no home of their own. After being moved from carer to carer a family friend finally alerts the social worker to the identity of Tiger's father, someone she has never known and who her mother refused to talk about. Once her blood relatives are tracked down the social security are anxious to hand over responsibility but all is not smooth sailing. Not only does Tiger have to learn to deal with her overwhelming grief but she has to adjust to a world far more challenging than she ever thought possible. Depression and suicidal thoughts threaten to engulf her as the full complexity of grief is laid out for the reader; who do you turn to when your mum dies and other people let you down? There is no easy answer and ultimately we have to save ourselves, take control of our lives and learn to live with loss.
This is a book for older students developing a perspective on life, willing to make the emotional journey with Tiger. The minor characters tend to be a bit sketchy but they are generally positive people making the best of their lot in life. There is a notable lack of comfortable teenage romance but the value and support of family and friends is central. It would be interesting to compare this with Stone Girl by Eleni Hale.
Themes: Grief, Loss, family, friendship, foster care.
Sue Speck