When the Ginns get mother, anything is possible. I was with my dad at grandma’s once, just to give you an example, and we’re having dinner and the phone rings and it’s Mother asking how it’s going and when dad says we’re just having dinner, she gets really worried and she asks ‘why isn’t the kid in school?’, what with it being after eight and all. When dad comes back and tells us about the funny things she said, I giggle a bit, but dad isn’t laughing.
In this book, the Ginns come out of a bottle and never go back in. Instead, they go into the narrator’s alcoholic mother, taking control of her totally. Dóra Elekes’ book is about that experience from the point of view of a young girl growing up beside Mother and the Ginns. And it is precisely this viewpoint that makes the book so special. When you’re a child, you don’t think about what’s normal and what’s not – what other people, elsewhere, do. You accept what goes on in your family, because you don’t know any different, and you have no choice. So there’s a great deal of acceptance in the narrator, and no surprise at the things that others reading this book may find shocking and disturbing. And sad.
The book approaches growing up with an alcoholic mother, sometimes absent, sometimes all too present – but in any case unpredictable – with honesty, openness, and wry, subtle humour. Allowing the reader to judge but not judging yourself – presenting the situations as they were without the weight of bitterness and anger – is a real accomplishment. This is reflected in the book being chosen as a “White Raven” in 2016 by the Internationale Jugendbibliothek, and the author winning Children’s Book of the Year in 2017 in Hungary (for her next book).
And though the text is quite slight – it’s a little over 2,000 words – it packs a lot into a small space. Its scenes give us the sense of a wider narrative, with its ups and downs, a small, limited view of the adults around the narrator and how the way their lives go wrong impacts the child dependent on them. Few books aimed at younger readers deal with this topic, and this is the honest, funny, painful but approachable story of a child who finds herself in a very difficult situation without understanding the full – adult – weight of it.
By Mark Baczoni