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BOOK REVIEW: A Weekend With Oscar by Robyn Bavati

| 25 July 2021 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: A Weekend With Oscar by Robyn Bavati

Walker Books
July 2021
Paperback $19.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult / Fiction

75% Rocking

A moving #LoveOzYA novel about loss, first love and being there for your family, no matter what.

“It’s only a weekend. Don’t you want quality time with Selena?”
We both know that with Oscar around, she won’t have much time or energy left for her sister.
“I’d definitely be more use to Selena if I went on my own.”
That settles it.
I’m seized by a moment of panic as I realise what I’ve let myself in for. I take a deep breath and tell myself to get a grip.
It’s only a weekend.
How hard can it be?”

Jamie’s family is still reeling from his father’s unexpected death nine months before the story begins, but despite the insistence from his teacher that he should talk to the guidance counsellor, Jamie isn’t able to bring himself to talk about it just yet. Besides, he needs to put on a brave face and make things as easy as possible for his mother.

“Apple cake?” asks Mum. “There’s one freshly made.”
“There’s been a lot of cake around lately.” I say, as I take a slice.
“Baking is kind of therapy for me.” This is the closest she’s ever come to mentioning Dad.
The cake sticks in my throat. I want to say, I miss him too. But I can’t bring myself to talk about Dad. We seem to have an unspoken agreement not to mention him.”

But when Jamie volunteers to watch his brother Oscar – who has Down syndrome – for the weekend so his mother can help her sister who’s in crisis, it shows him just how much their mum takes care of for them. And when she doesn’t return and can’t be contacted, it brings some very real concerns to mind for Jamie, and the conversation his mum had with him six months earlier.

“Don’t get me wrong, Jamie. I’m not planning to die anytime soon. I’m planning to stick around for a long, long time. But sometimes our plans don’t match the reality. That’s why I felt I should ask you now. Will you take responsibility for Oscar after I die?”
 “Of course, of course I will,” I blurt out. But as soon as the words were out, I found myself thinking, Help! What if it happens tomorrow? How could I look after Oscar? I’m only sixteen!
Now he has to figure out how to take care of Oscar, do well at school, and figure out what’s happened to his mum, all while trying to pretend everything is normal at home, so social services aren’t called and he and Oscar aren’t put in foster care.

 


 
Bavati delivers a story full of heartfelt moments between the brothers, supportive and loving friendships, artistic expression as a way to deal with high-stress situations, and a teenage boy doing all he can for his family in crisis. 
 
In the author’s note and acknowledgements at the end, Bavati explains that she interviewed young people with Down syndrome and their families, and did the same with people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, to inform her story and avoid inflammatory, offensive, or stereotypical elements within this story. It was also read and critiqued by two parents of people with Down syndrome and tweaked accordingly. 
 

Beyond making sure that the above elements were handled respectfully, the author did deliver a story that was heart-warming, engaging, and dramatic, dealing with some pretty serious emotions and fears. This was handled in such a way that it made it hard to put the book down, and readers will want to keep turning those pages to see how it’s all going to wrap up. 

Readers will root for these boys and their friends and family, seeing elements of themselves within one or more of the characters:

  • Jamie is sporty and intelligent. He plays basketball, he’s in the advanced learning mathematics class.
  • Zara is artistic and has a whole shed for her paintings, generally exploring themes around keeping your thoughts and feelings to yourself, and how hard it might be to get those things out.
  • Dan is an Australian-born Vietnamese comedian whose mother wants him to do well in school and become a doctor, but he wants to do comedy.
 

 
While the author did put a lot of effort into telling this story respectfully, it was sometimes in the mind of her neurotypical character, Jamie, that it seemed she cut some corners. 
 
At one point in the story, Jamie has had repeated indications that a person isn’t home, but he carries on for pages and pages about how he doesn’t want to wake them. Perhaps the author might have been able to clear this up by showing that he didn’t really believe that person to be home, but just HOPED they would be. Instead it came across as though she was trying to portray this intelligent boy of 16 and change to be rather unthinking about the whole situation.
 
The respite thing was my biggest bugbear. At one point Jamie thinks about getting respite for Oscar overnight so he can study for his Maths test. Then he realises that isn’t an option to him.
 
But Oscar hates respite. He might refuse to go. And how would I get him to school in the morning? I suppose I could spend money on a taxi, but would it really be worth it?
Then I remember – Oscar has been banned from respite. Last time he was there, he banged on all the bedroom doors at 2am and woke everyone up.
As someone who has worked with foster kids, I can tell you that’s not how it works. 
Respited is DESIGNED to help families who are in difficult situations, whether they be foster kids who are struggling or presenting with stressful behaviours, people with genetic conditions who might struggle to understand some things, or even kids with bad behaviours that parents are struggling with, and occasional respite is a way to stop that kid being entered into the general foster system.
I’ve known kids who have done major damage to HOUSES and they are not BANNED FROM RESPITE. Respite helps these families by giving them some downtime without the stress, and by placing the children in question in a secure and well-informed environment.
 
It would have been better, in this reviewer’s opinion, if the respite option had been explored a little bit further, and then Jamie had realised it wasn’t an option for him, because it was obviously better for the plot if Jamie didn’t have the respite option. The author could have achieved this by exploring the fact that a grown-up would need to organise respite, or that respite at such short notice (for that night) might not be doable, rather than suggesting that option would be so quickly taken away from families in need.
 

 
All in all, this is a story that deals with some pretty serious things, like the death of a parent, fear of the death of another, struggling in school, taking on responsibility beyond your means and talking about your grief and mental health struggles.
 
Bavati handles it well, and this is the kind of book that will make you feel seen, heard, and validated; while also offering some comfort in the fact that you could be struggling with worse (or at least unfamiliar) things, and reassures you that you don’t have to do it alone. 
 
We are all in this “life” thing together.

 

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