Title: Rosie Loves Jack
Author: Mel Darbon
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing, March 1st 2021
Genre: contemporary YA fiction
Note: adult themes: ableist behavior/language, taking advantage of young women, discussions of rape, sex trafficking, mentions of alcohol and drug abuse, & other scenes of a sensitive nature
Themes: romance, Down’s Syndrome, cognitive disability, innocence, abuse, human trafficking, fatphobia, love, determination
Mum told me, ‘Above everything Rose, 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.
Rosie loves Jack is the story of a teenage girl in the UK called Rosie. Rosie lives with Down syndrome and has a boyfriend called Jack whom she loves. Jack has problems of his own though which means he can get quite violent. After Jack goes too far one day he’s taken away to attend an anger management course in Brighton. Rosie’s parents think she should forget him. Rosie resolves to find Jack herself, taking the train to London alone by public transport. As she copes with transportation setbacks, she encounters assorted strangers—some kind and some with unsavory intentions.
Why I like this book:
Rosie’s first person POV expresses her determination, frustration, and innocence, as well as sadly others’ patronizing and rude reactions to her disability that are no doubt realistic. Rosie is probably one of the most determined YA protagonists I have read in a while. Utterly single-minded and brave in her resolve. I think most people would have given up on a journey when all their trains would have been cancelled, after they lost all their money, but she didn’t. She had to find Jack because what they had together was meaningful and she couldn’t give it up due to her father’s concerns.
This portrayal of Jack and Rosie’s love felt very authentic. For several years when I live din London, I lived next door to a young couple with Down’s syndrome and they were one of the most devoted couples I knew. I think Rosie Loves Jack is especially important because it shows how people that suffer from Down’s Syndrome can still have a normal life, Rosie goes to college, she has a healthy and supportive relationship, she has great friends and a family that are looking out for her. And while she is taken advantage of, she ultimately shows herself capable of taking care of herself. I loved how Rosie stood up for herself in all the situations when people looked down on her or assumed things about her based on her disorder. It was also a huge feat to navigate public transport, given that many teens who have only been driven everywhere would struggle with this.
Her positive outlook of life is admirable and inspirational. Because of her empathy and kindness she makes friends easily, though I would like to have seen the secondary characters a little more developed. While the people she encountered had back stories of their own, struggles, and thus the book this book touches on lots of important subjects from bullying to fatphobia, human trafficking and homelessness, sometimes I felt these stories merited more depth to add to their credibility.
I personally would have liked to have seen more interaction between Rosie and Jack, not just flashbacks and perhaps a little less of the subplot of the less likely dark travel encounters though I realize people with intellectual disabilities can be targets of abuse.
I love that there is no happy neat resolution and I also love that Rose states at multiple times throughout the story that she isn’t Down’s syndrome, she is Rose. What a terrific mantra for anyone. There are not so many YA novels with representation of teens with cognitive disabilities and I think this is a strong addition with two well-represented neurodivergent characters. Rosie’s voice rings true with, for example, how smells have colors and busy places with light, color, sound and movement make her head buzz and interrupt her internal monologues.
Mel Darbon spent a large part of her childhood inventing stories to keep her autistic brother happy on car journeys, and brings years of experience to Rosie’s very authentic voice. I do think this is a good addition to our diversity shelves.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.