by Mel Darbon
Rosie Loves Jack is a story about love and one girl’s journey to be reunited with the boy who makes the sunshine in her head. It’s a story about never giving up despite the odds that are stacked against you. It’s a book that will help you see the world through new eyes.
Sixteen-year- old Rosie has Down’s syndrome, but she won’t let this get in the way of finding her boyfriend Jack. Armed with Jack’s postcards and his temporary address, Rosie sets off in the snow to find him, but the terrible weather causes major travel disruptions and Rosie finds herself stranded in unfamiliar London. Rosie soon learns that not everyone is kind and she is left facing dangers she could not have foreseen. Whilst people might think a girl with Down’s syndrome could never survive on her own, Rosie knows she can prove everyone wrong…
I always knew that one day I would write a book with someone like Rosie as the protagonist because I was passionate about giving a voice to those who otherwise might not be heard. The reason for this, and the seed of my story, began with my brother Guy.
I was four years old when my brother Guy was born. I realized even then that nothing was ever going to be the same again – and for my older brother and I it meant saying goodbye to our childhood and understanding that all the choices made by our parents wouldn’t be directly about us anymore.
It soon became apparent that my brother had very severe disabilities – but it wasn’t until many years later that he was diagnosed with autism – the type that’s so severe it requires constant care, as he cannot look after any of his own physical needs and has limited language.
My brother was a very beautiful child, which didn’t help when he had his meltdowns, because there was no indication that anything was wrong. One day, when I was nine years old and Guy was five, we were out shopping in town when Guy exploded in a tantrum, shouting, kicking and screaming. Several people came up to us, not to offer help, but to berate my mother, telling her she was a disgrace, that my brother’s behavior was disgusting and that he should be put away.
I couldn’t understand why some people were so judgmental. I wanted to tell them to ‘put on my brother’s shoes’ for a moment and try to comprehend what it was like to be locked in a world that made no sense to him, a world where even in his sleep he is tortured by his dreams, shouting out in the middle of the night; a world where he cannot show or tell us he is in pain – and once ended up in hospital with an abscess under his tooth, which the doctor said must have been agony.
I always knew that one day I would give my brother a voice, because I wanted people to see that his life is not unworthy and that we need to look beyond disability to ability and build a world where people with a learning disability are valued equally, listened to and included. I want to make it clear that when you have a brother like mine the positives far outstrip the negatives. My brother has taught me compassion, kindness, patience and the ability to empathize. My love for him is boundless and although he cannot express emotion himself, when I visit him now, he greets me by placing his head on my shoulder and saying, “My Mel”. This simple statement means more to me than a thousand words ever could. I am the person I am today because of my brother and I can’t thank him enough.
My work later on as a teaching assistant with teenagers with Down’s syndrome validated my ambition, as every one of these young people had a voice inside them, which needed to be heard.
It was at this time that I met the girl who was to help bring about my character Rosie in Rosie Loves Jack. She was kind, funny and fiercely independent, determined to get a job, fall in love and one day get married. I learned from her how much people with Down’s syndrome are attuned to other’s feelings. They have incredible empathy – and always see the good in the world. I realised how much we all had to learn from them, and I wanted my character Rosie to show this through her innocent but brave eyes – for the reader to wonder at the world with her and to learn through her that kindness and compassion are so important. Rosie helps us to understand that human emotions don’t discriminate between those who are able and those who are disabled – but above all else she shows us that we must never assume that someone who has difficulty communicating has nothing to say. But I wanted to write a love story that demonstrated how my character, Rosie, is a teenage girl first and not just a person defined by her Down’s syndrome. It was very important to me to write a story that showed we all have these same aspirations; to love, be loved and to be accepted without limitations. I hope her courage inspires people.
“Mum told me, ‘Above all else you are a human bean…we love the same…we think the same…and we are as important as each other.’ The words in my head are the same as yours – sometimes they just come out wonky.”
This is a guest blog from Mel Darbon and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG. Rosie Loves Jack is available now and published by Usborne. Mel can be found at www.meldarbon.com and @DarbonMel @meldarbon