Oh Lara Williamson, what an uplifting and heart-warming book you have written. Williamson has previously written three books that have all been short-listed for awards and this one will no doubt be on the shortlists again. She is a young author whose writing style demands the attention of any young reader. Her writing is modern and she writes with a great awareness of the interests of today’s children.
Mabel Mynt has a lot of worries, so many in fact she keeps them all in a suitcase that she carries around with her wherever she goes. Although her worry suitcase is very full there always seems to be space to squeeze in one more. Mabel also has a very big space in her heart, or to be more exact, a big dad-shaped space in her heart that has been around ever since he walked out. Mabel is not looking for a replacement dad but when her mum meets “Galactic” Gavin, she begins to feel a little bit happier. However, Mabel’s older sister, Terrible Topaz, has read one too many romance novels and is convinced she has proof that Gavin isn’t being completely honest with their mum and has secrets that would break mum’s heart all over again. Conflicted with the thought of losing Gavin and the fear of seeing mum’s heart broken again, Mabel seeks to find out who Gavin really is.
There are so many valuable lessons for children in this book that I honestly do not know where to start. This is an essential read for anyone that has ever worried or has anxieties. It helps the reader to understand that worrying is normal and offers support in dealing with worries. How often do we say to children, “Don’t worry about it.” What do we really mean by this and what kind of message does it give? Does it suggest that the worry isn’t important enough? That they should keep the worry to themselves? Do we actually expect the child to not worry about it? Does this lead to little worries becoming bigger worries? I find it really difficult not to worry about a worry. The book shows the reader that is OK to worry, that it is normal, and that worries can be big or small. The most valuable lesson the reader can take away from the book is that we have to find the courage to share our worries. It is only through sharing our worries that we can get the support we need. The book is a beautiful and poignant lesson in the importance of talking. “A problem shared is a problem halved.”
The book teaches the reader many lessons about not judging someone from what you can see on the outside. In recent times the issues surrounding mental health have become much more publicised and schools are playing their part in informing children’s understanding of mental health and wellbeing. The book jumps on the idea that what we see is often only part of the story and this is played out brilliantly in the narrative through the eyes and actions of an obnoxious and secretive twelve year old (Topaz) who thinks she knows best. Williamson uses the analogy of an iceberg - I love it and it is so symbolic of how we make judgements. Just think about an iceberg (the ones in the ocean, not the lettuce). We judge it by what we can see yet most of it is below the surface of the water. We must teach children to look deeper than just the surface and The Girl With Space In Her Heart does this. Whilst Topaz has her mum’s best interests at heart, we see through her actions how judging people from what we see on the surface can have terrible consequences.
The book also deals with the delicate subject of depression. Whilst depression is something that we would not ordinarily associate with children, Williamson explores how a child can be affected by a family member suffering from depression. This is carefully and sensitively done through references to the black dog and extreme sadness, the word depression does not actually appear in the text until the last-but-one chapter. It is also a lesson in kindness, Williamson writes on more than one occasion, “Kindness costs nothing.” This is such a valuable reminder to children in a world that is dominated by social media and where it is easy to hide behind our words and be mean via a screen.
Whilst there are hard-hitting issues at play, I found the book to be a really positive read and it fills you with hope and optimism. There are times when it might make you cry but there are plenty of times where it will make you laugh, smile and fill with joy. Mabel shows the reader how hope, friendship and love can see you through the darkest of times.
Williamson has come up with the some of the most original and brilliant character names I have read in a while; Mabel Mynt (with a y), Terrible Topaz, Galactic Gavin and Jupiter (the cat). Her writing is full of humour, particularly puns - which I loved. There is nothing as satisfying as a good pun and Williamson is an expert in this art. I’d definitely be getting my shirts pressed at ‘Iron Maiden.’ I really enjoyed the poems that the narrative is interspersed with. They are beautiful and thoughtful and they could be a stand-alone read themselves such is the emotion and feelings they provoke.
The Girl With Space In Her Heart is the perfect read for children of 9+, particularly relevant for children in grades 5 and 6 and for those starting high school. As challenging as it maybe to talk about our worries, we must. We must let them go, just as, “Dandelion seeds fly up on the breeze.”