Always Jack – Reviewed by Hazel Edwards

Written by Susanne Gervay
Illustrated by Cathy Wilcox

ISBN 9780732290207


reviewed by Hazel Edwards 

While it’s often hard to name the third title in a trilogy, ‘Always Jack’ is a poignant choice, because the character is consistent, and so is the family, despite Mum being diagnosed with breast cancer.

It takes courage for an author to tackle such a subject, both in junior chapter fiction and in real life.  And to get the tone right, so kids will want to read this story ‘ as a good read’, not just because it is an ‘issues’ book, takes crafting skill. Gervay has that skill.

As in the earlier ‘I am Jack’ which tackled bullying and ‘SuperJack’ about blended families, there is still a strong child-centred story likely to appeal to 9-12 year olds.

Susanne Gervay has crafted Jack jokes(  so many of them, but apt for  this age group)  lots of yummy food ( the sex of kids books) and interwoven three generations in a  multi cultural community which seems ‘ordinary’.  The school details are realistic, as is the surfing scene and family picnics. Christopher is a mate, and only later we learn his family are Vietnamese, when they become part of the school project.

Creative problem- solving like inventor Jack putting family cameo photos on Nanna’s walking stick so she’ll use it, indicates family caring.

‘Always Jack’ is not only about a family and a community supporting a mum with breast cancer, it’s about friendships, step-family relationships with a bit of jealousy between settling- in step- brothers and how an extended family cope with eccentric, purple underpants, bargain- loving Nanna, pet mice, and school projects which tackle ‘war and peace’ from different perspectives and cultures. Even visiting Grandad in the cemetery, and talking to his grave, is acceptable…

That’s a lot to pack into a junior chapter book.

At first I thought this family seemed ‘too nice’, but as they tackle the looming ‘wedding’ and then the ‘interruption’ of cancer, the strengths of the child-centred  ‘family fun’ supports the story. The kids aren’t perfect, but they’re believable.

P 99 Jack doesn’t like peas but vows that if Mum gets better he’ll make a deal to eat them every dinner, everyday forever.   That’s the kind of bargain a kid would make in their head.

This novel  makes an excellent gift of reassurance  for a family who may deal with the issue of cancer.  Fiction rather than fact enables the reader to live inside the character and see things from their viewpoint for the couple of hours necessary to read the book.  Gervay tackles the issues from a child’s curiosity…like how does the chemo work,  surgery with a slash across your chest, and even how another kid might feel about medical diagnoses. Mum takes the children with her,  as Gervay takes the reader, to demystify the medical sequence of breast cancer treatment.

‘Always Jack’ tackles the scariness of cancer facts, but makes it a safe subject to talk about…via fiction.

Highly commended. As proved in her earlier titles like ‘Butterflies’, Gervay handles health related stories in an approachable way which has attracted many awards.

The rare Yellow Daffodil of approval has been given to this book by the Cancer Council.  October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. More details:

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