Hager, M. (2013). Dear Vincent. Auckland, NZ: Random House. [Realism]
Tara’s life is not so good at the moment. She’s had to stop going to school in the afternoons so she can work part-time at an old folks’ home. Tara’s mum needs her help to pay the mortgage on the over-priced house that is slowly rotting around them. Her dad is housebound by the stroke that paralysed him six years ago, and when Tara’s not at school, or work, she’s caring for him and running the house so her mum can work night shifts. On top of this, Tara had to move to a school that her mum could afford and she hasn’t made any friends. And after recently discovering the truth behind the death of her troubled older sister five years ago, it has all become a bit much.
If this all sounds a bit bleak – it is. However, there are brushes of light in the story: the growing friendship with Max, one of the old folks Tara cares for, and his grandson; the introduction of philosophy to her life; the connection with her family back in Ireland; and, perhaps the greatest cause for hope, Tara’s talent and passion for painting. Through her art, Tara is able to express the emotions that she feels unable to verbalise – and those around her are able to see the pain she’s in and offer the help that she is incapable of asking for.
I got a bit frustrated with Tara at times. Yes, she’s got it tough, but when others try to reach out and help her she shuns them. And then when some of the girls at her school offer her sympathy and share some of their troubles, she thinks that must be unpleasant for them but no one has it as bad as her. However, Mandy Hager is such a good writer she walks this thin line really well. The book is bleak, but not too bleak; Tara is a bit frustrating, but you still care about what happens to her and wish her well.
I won’t be putting a ‘seniors only’ sticker on this book in our school library, however, I will be lending it with care. It needs to be read by students who are robust enough to hear the bleak story, but not be seduced by the idea of suicide. It should give students food for thought about how destructive suicide can be on a family. And hopefully make them be a bit more forgiving towards the adults in their lives – you don’t always know the full story of those people closest to you…