Micky here. I jumped at the chance of getting involved in reading When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari as soon as I read the synopsis. The publisher (Little Tiger) and PR (the brilliant Nina Douglas) were asking for bloggers to choose a theme from the book and ask questions at a live reading/Q&A. When Shadows Fall is stunningly illustrated book about family, friendships, found family, prejudice, grief & loss, community, green spaces and being powerless until…but in reality, the reading of this book is a whole experiences of living alongside these characters.
Today’s post is a little different. I’m going to be sharing the synopsis and my brief thoughts further down with details about the book, but I’m also going to be sharing Sita’s answers to my questions of grief & loss in relation to this book and YA lit in particular. I have a professional interest in grief experiences, especially those in children and young people, so I was so pleased to see these themes handled so brilliantly in the book and then hear Sita’s perspectives.
Sita’s passion and knowledge of the themes in this book in relation to real-world experiences just sang through her online meet. Sita was very chatty and down to earth, I was glued to my screen. When Shadows Fall had been 20 years in the making, from conceiving the idea to then getting pen to page. She described this story as being about ‘soul friends’ and I can’t tell you how that hits the nail on the head after reading this. Sita said that if there’s one thing she’d like readers, especially young people to take away from this book, it is the importance of agency for disenfranchised people. This whole book leads you to that, as Kai writes his story and we read it.
Q&A about grief and loss in this book and YA lit
Micky: Why do you think it’s important for children & young people to have stories of grief?
Sita: This isn’t the first time I’ve written about grief and loss but this book is harder hitting in this theme than some of my others. Children live in the world and they need these stories, we do a disservice in storytelling if this isn’t part of the stories we tell. In this story, Omid has great grief to deal with but Kai also is going through a loss of his own.
Micky: Are there any other books you’d recommend on these topics?
Sita: I was influenced by Max Porter (Grief is the Thing with Feathers) and I’d recommend Annabel Pitcher’s My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece. Sita’s own Kite Spirit delves into these topics too, particularly suicide.
Micky: How do you think images, the illustrations in the book help children process thinking about grief and loss?
Sita: The ravens are a key element of this story and the thread of grief. Images can transport the reader, it adds to the texture of the book and how it’s understood.
The images in this book range from full illustrations for the page and also little pieces of art across so many pages that take a word like ‘bubbles’ and there are bubbles rising across the page. Those elements were so beautiful to me, making the reading experience incredibly special.
Thank you so much for answering my questions, Sita.
Kai, Orla and Zak grew up together, their days spent on the patch of wilderness in between their homes, a small green space in a sprawling grey city. Music, laughter and friendship bind them together and they have big plans for their future – until Kai’s family suffers a huge loss.
Trying to cope with his own grief, as well as watching it tear his family apart, Kai is drawn into a new and more dangerous crowd, until his dreams for the future are a distant memory. Excluded from school and retreating from his loved ones, it seems as though his path is set, his story foretold. Orla, Zak and new classmate Om are determined to help him find his way back. But are they too late?
A heart-breaking and poignant novel from award-winning author Sita Brahmachari, for fans of THE BLACK FLAMINGO, AND THE STARS WERE BURNING BRIGHTLY and POET X.
This read was an emotional experience but I knew that as I entered. The story centred around Kai and his family but really it was about growing up, friendships and a whole bite of tough life experiences. The story was written in the main through normal narrative, from the POV of Kai, Om, Orla and Zak but there were also moments of free verse that were incredibly poignant.
This was an empowering story but it was also packed with difficult themes such as mental illness, death, grief and refugee trauma and experiences. These themes were conveyed authentically and carefully by the author. Nevertheless, the words packed hefty emotional punches at times. I had to pause and take a break before I continued on because these words had the power to make me feel deeply.
The illustrations woven throughout the book were full of significance and poignancy. They ranged from double page spreads to small illustrations in the corner of a page. They made me stop and absorb and they were completely wonderful.
I would highly recommend this book for any teenager and above. Thank you to Little Tiger and Nina Douglas PR for the review copy.
Sita was born in Derby in 1966, to an Indian doctor from Kolkata and an English nurse from the Lake District. She has a BA in English Literature and an MA in Arts Education. Her many projects and writing commissions have been produced in theatres, universities, schools and community groups throughout Britain and America. ARTICHOKE HEARTS is her first novel for young people and won the prestigious Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize for 2011. Sita lives and works in North London with her husband, three children and a temperamental cat.
Thank you to Little Tiger & Nina Douglas PR for the gifted review copy and artwork (which I’m treasuring). Also thanks to Sita Brahmachari for being such an interesting author to talk to. Congratulations on an amazing book!