Rating: 4 Stars
Synopsis via Goodreads:
The award-winning author of Finnikin of the Rock and Jellicoe Road pens a raw, compelling novel about a family’s hard-won healing on the other side of trauma.
Award-winning author Melina Marchetta reopens the story of the group of friends from her acclaimed novel Saving Francesca—but five years have passed, and now it’s Thomas Mackee who needs saving. After his favorite uncle was blown to bits on his way to work in a foreign city, Tom watched his family implode. He quit school and turned his back on his music and everyone that mattered, including the girl he can’t forget. Shooting for oblivion, he’s hit rock bottom, forced to live with his single, pregnant aunt, work at the Union pub with his former friends, and reckon with his grieving, alcoholic father. Tom’s in no shape to mend what’s broken. But what if no one else is either? An unflinching look at family, forgiveness, and the fierce inner workings of love and friendship, The Piper’s Son redefines what it means to go home again.
I had no idea this book existed until about a month ago, and I kind of hated myself for that.
“I know this sounds cruel, Georgie,” Lucia says, “but grieving people are selfish. They won’t let you comfort them and they say you don’t understand and they make you feel useless when all your life you’ve been functional to them.“
Saving Francesca is one of my favorite books of all time. I found it when I was just beginning to get addicted to YA literature, and only heard of it because there was a YA book blog I found that raved about it. I had to scour one-a-many used bookstores to find Saving Francesca, because no library and no Barnes & Noble around me had it. When I did finally find a copy of it, the book was incredibly worn and kind of falling apart. But I still have it on my favorite bookshelf, on the shelf that contains my top ten or so favorite books of all time, the kind of books I’ll just randomly pick back up and re-read some of my favorite scenes and/or quotes for no reason whatsoever.
One of my first book reviews ever was Saving Francesca, when I had no idea what the heck I was doing or even how to write a semi-decent book review (I talk like I have any idea now how to write a book review. LOL), because I love it so much. (Please do not go looking for that particular review. It’s cringe worthy, and I typically prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist on principle.)
So when I found out The Piper’s Son existed, and saw all the rave reviews for it, it became my new priority in life to read it. Funny thing though – I never would have expected to see a whole book written just for Tom. I liked him very much from Saving Francesca, but honestly I expected a sequel or tagalong book to be still from Francesca’s POV or Will’s or even one of the other girls. Never Tom.
“Don’t let anyone take care of you. Can you maybe leave that for me to do? I mean, take care of you? Feel free to take care of me in return . . . because I think I’ll need you to do that.”
This is the kind of book that sneaks up on you. Saving Francesca was the same, and maybe it was because Saving Francesca was all about Francesca and because I’m also female, but I liked Saving Francesca a lot better, to be completely honest. Saving Francesca was all about depression, and I have never read a book that so simply and amazingly captured what depression is without being cliché or stereotypical and was completely honest and real.
The Piper’s Son took me longer to get into. I had to repeatedly put this book down because it was mentally and emotionally taxing to read too much of this for a long period of time. Part of this was the beginning and because we’re introduced to so, so many members of Tom’s extended family that I was completely lost for a while on who was who and who was a grandfather and who was blood related and who was a second husband and who was married to who and, oh, is this couple related or are they just really good friends? It was kind of ridiculous.
But then it got so, so good. I didn’t expect to love Georgie – Tom’s aunt, who shares half the story with Tom – as much as I did. I love that all these characters – all umpteenth of them – in the book were real and flawed. None of them sat in the background. None were page fillers, and all had at least one scene where they would say something and we’d get a glimpse into their past or how the death of Tom’s uncle hit them and you’d realize that there could be a whole other book written just for them, too.
There are so many aspects covered in this book, from addiction to depression to guilt. And none of them have easy or simple answers. None are clear. While having as many heavy topics as this book did – such as a dead grandfather from the Vietnam War whose body was never recovered to losing an uncle in a terrorist attack to loving a man who cheated on you seven years ago to a father who’s an alcoholic and had hit his son, but everyone still sings his praise – would usually overwhelm an author, Marchetta had no problem juggling everything.
I loved that one of main driving factors of this book was relationships between family. Because that crap is complicated, no matter what anyone says.
“Love’s easy. It kind of comes with the territory. But liking is another story.”
How loving family can also mean hating them, because they’re the ones who can – and likely will – hurt you the most in life. They don’t mean to, but they do.
And there were times when I really, really missed Francesca. Even though she is a character still present in this story, this is more about Tom and Georgie. But there are a few scenes when she would come back and I’d remember why I loved her so much.
Because a driving factor in both Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son is depression, which is so very difficult to write about. And – I’m gonna be completely honest with ya’ll – this is coming from a person who’s had major depression issues these last few years. Because people always wonder why you’re just suddenly so sad one day when the day before you were fine, and they want to know “Why?” and “How can we make it better?” and those are just the wrong questions, because there is no why and there is no making it better. Not really. It’s not a problem you can wrap into a nice little box. It can’t even really always be fixed with therapy or medicine either. Because when the word depression comes out of your mouth the first thing a lot of people want to do is stuff it with pills. And, personally, I’ve tried medicine – Lord knows I’ve tried so many ugly little multi-colored pills, more than a dozen different kinds – and all of the medicine made me so, so much worse.
“He knows bad days. Bad days take him completely by surprise. They make him not trust the good days because it’s likely something is lurking twenty-four hours away.”
Adverse affects and all that. Waking up with a migraine one morning when I’ve never had a migraine before in my life because of that new anti-depressant I tried the night before. Feeling sicker than having the flu and having my hands shake for a week because of another new medicine. And – God forbid – taking that one horrible, horrible new anti-depressant that suddenly makes you feel like hurting yourself, and you’re scared shitless because you’ve never, ever felt that way before and it feels so wrong, and learning it’s just because you’re one of the rare people that can get a reaction like that from that one particular medication, and so you have to ride out those side-effects until the medicine leaves your system while your parents call you every hour because they, too, are scared shitless. Learning that taking anti-depressants with serotonin – which most anti-depressants are made of, BTW – is probably the worst thing for me after trying about a dozen different types of medicine, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
And this book tackles things like that, and it’s so amazing. It covers both sides of the story. The frustration of someone with depression because they don’t even fully understand a lot of the time why they’re sad, they just are, or having one little thing set off a few days or maybe a month of sudden depression, something that was so small and no ones fault, but was just the catalyst.
And the helplessness of the people around the person being depressed. Because there’s nothing they can really do, and that just cuts deep. It can frustrate them, maybe even make them resent that person. And it’s understandable. Depression doesn’t just eat up the person having it, but also the people around it.
“And if I get a little chemically imbalanced in the head, like we all know I tend to get sometimes, and I don’t want my parents or brother knowing, Will’s like, ‘We’ll deal with it.’ He’s never said, ‘I’ll fix it up.’ He just says, ‘You’re not up to going back to uni to finish your Honours this year? Big deal. There’s next year. We’ll deal with it.'” She nods. “That’s what he does well.”