More than Us by Dawn Barker ** Blog Tour Review & Extract**
I'm so pleased to be on the Blog Tour to celebrate the publication of Dawn Barker's More than Us . I have an extract today so you can see if you want to read more. First, here's a little about this family drama.
When parents disagree on how to care for their child, is it justifiable to take extreme measures?
Emily and Paul have a glorious home, money in the bank and two beautiful children. Since leaving Scotland for Paul to play football for an Australian team they have been blessed. But sadness lies behind the picture-perfect family - sixteen-year-old Cameron has battled with health troubles his entire life. There's no name for what he has, but his disruptive behaviour, OCD and difficulty in social situations is a constant source of worry.
When Paul's career comes to a shuddering halt, he descends into a spiral of addiction, gambling away the family's future. By the time he seeks help, it's his new boss Damien who recommends and pays for a rehab facility.
While Paul is away, Emily has to make a tough decision about their son. She keeps it from Paul knowing he'll disapprove. And when a terrible accident reveals the truth, Paul takes his son and goes on the run, leaving Emily to care for fourteen-year-old Tilly, who unbeknown to her parents is fighting battles of her own
Can the family join together for the sake of their loved ones, or will their troubles tear them apart?
It hadn’t taken long to feel like an old hand at hospital visits. After only a few days, I knew the best place to park, and how to find the correct lifts that would take me straight to Cameron’s floor. The day he’d been rushed in here with sirens screaming, I’d staggered along the corridors with bloodshot eyes; now I strode along the corridors, into the lift, and up to the fourth floor with ease. I’d learned to avert my eyes once the lift doors closed, smile humbly and look at the floor. The new fathers were easy to spot, flustered, grinning, with their toddlers in hand, holding a shiny balloon or new teddy bear from the gift shop. Others were like me on that first day: shattered, clutching a child’s backpack and a soft and worn old toy. Then there were the pros, the parents who had adapted to their new status as Parents of Sick Children. They carried folders of information, smiled at the familiar nurses and doctors who slid in and out of the lift, and knew they had to be there early in the morning to catch the Consultant’s ward round.
I watched the red numbers on the lift display change from G to 1 to 2 to 3. There was a ping as the lift slowed. Oncology. I nodded slightly to the woman who took a deep breath and stepped out, blinking back my own tears. This is what I’d been trying to explain to Paul: it could be so much worse. I couldn’t imagine the horror of the parents walking onto Floor 3. They clung to each other for survival; they didn’t let their child’s illness pull them apart.
Sometimes I envied that bond – not their children’s illness, God no – but the way that they supported each other. Paul thought it was my fault that Cameron was here. It’s not. And if we’re going to start looking for someone to blame, I could remind Paul that he needs to look at himself. Cameron has been ill for years, and him being here has nothing to do with what I’ve done. Nothing. But, if he was on this floor, they’d have a test to tell us what was wrong with him, and I wouldn’t feel so alone. We don’t know what our son has, or indeed if he has anything at all. There’s no blood test for what Cameron has, no X-ray or CT scan. And if the thing that is wrong with Cameron has a name, it doesn’t have a ribbon or a wristband or a fun run for it.
I breathed in deeply then blew out slowly. I had to stop letting my thoughts get away from me and be mindful of now. Now, Cameron needs me. He’ll be coming home today, then Paul and I will sort everything out, and he will get better.
The lift ascended again. It pinged at Floor 4 then it stopped. My stomach twisted a little as the doors hissed open. A woman pushing the breakfast trolley waited while I turned myself sideways and squeezed out into the corridor onto the Kookaburra ward. Neurology.
I walked straight along the corridor towards Cameron’s room, where I assumed the discharge meeting would be. He had a single room. I had smiled wryly when I’d first told Paul. One of the benefits of having a mental illness. No one wants to share with you. He hadn’t smiled back.
There was no one at the nurses’ station on my left: nothing unusual. I glanced at my watch; I was right on time. I’d hoped to be here earlier, but Tilly had taken ages to get ready for school and wouldn’t finish her breakfast, and then the slipway queue at school had been busy, and then I’d slowed in the sludge of the school traffic. I snapped an imaginary elastic band on my wrist; I was here now. I wasn’t late, I wouldn’t look like the bad parent after Paul had spent the whole night here. Before this, our unspoken tally chalked up during heated arguments was about normal things: who cleaned up after dinner or took the bins out each week. I hated that it had become a tacit competition to prove who cared about Cameron the most.
When my friend Anna went through a divorce, I saw how she and her ex used their children as the currency in their bargaining. I had sworn I’d never do that if I was ever in her situation, although I had been smug back then in the knowledge that Paul and I were solid. But recently, I had heard myself making comments about Paul to the children. Just a little here, a little there. ‘Your dad is busy at work today… I don’t know why he isn’t here, maybe you could ask him the next time you see him…?’ And, oh, how my face burned as I said the words. I knew it was wrong, but after everything that’d happened, I needed them on my side. Anyway, he would be doing the same, I was sure.
I walked past the shared ward and turned right off the corridor into Cameron’s room. When he had first arrived a couple of days ago, he spent hours in the emergency department, separated from sick strangers by only a flimsy curtain. For Cameron, that was torture. Not only was he terrified about what was wrong with him, but underneath, the symptoms that have stalked him since he was a child were still there. He wouldn’t eat the food, and he couldn’t sleep for the light and the noise and the smells. I had taken the bottle of hand sanitiser from him before his skin became cracked and red from endlessly rubbing them with the gel.
I rubbed my own hands with the sanitiser mounted on the wall outside of his room, hoping the alcohol rub would dry up the sweat on my palms. Taking a deep breath, and fixing my smile on my face, I pushed open the door.
I stopped. His bed was empty. Had they gone for the meeting already?
But the bed wasn’t just empty: it was stripped back to the mattress. The bedside table was bare, with no signs of his iPad or magazines or water bottle or bag of jelly snakes. My heart beat faster. Had he been taken to another ward? For a moment, I wondered if I was in the wrong ward, that I’d walked out of the lift on the incorrect floor, overconfident that I knew where I was going, and instead had emerged into a carbon copy ward a floor higher or lower. But no: the small whiteboard above the bed still read ‘Cameron Napier’, but otherwise, the room was empty.
I entered the room, letting the door swing closed behind me, then walked into the ensuite bathroom, hoping I’d find him in there packing up his toiletries, but it was empty except for a damp towel crumpled at the bottom of a laundry bin.
I hurried back out into the corridor. The muffled quiet of the room gave way to the sound of distant coughs and chatter, cries and chirps of machinery. I paused and listened hard, but couldn’t hear Cameron’s voice, or any sounds of him that I’d been hearing every day for almost fifteen years, not his footsteps, his breathing, his presence. He wasn’t here.
I sensed someone stop behind me. I turned around to see one of the young nurses, Jasmine, her frown matching the one that I knew was on my face.
‘Emily,’ she said. ‘I thought…’ She stopped, her eyes darting towards the door of Cameron’s room.
I followed her gaze, but the door remained closed. I looked back at her pale face, tilted my head to the side, and waited for her to speak.
‘I thought you…’ Her voice trailed off and as it did, my heart beat faster.
‘Where’s Cameron?’ I said, trying to keep my voice steady.
‘Have you moved him already? Where’s the meeting? I’m here for the meeting.’
Her eyes widened, then she looked at the floor as dread crept through my bones.
‘Jasmine, what’s going on?’
‘Come with me,’ she said, turning around and heading back towards the nursing station.
I followed quickly. ‘Where is he? Is he okay?’ My voice wasn’t steady any more. I had the sudden fear that they had stripped his bed and packed up his possessions because he’d died in the night. That in all the confusion and fuss, someone had forgotten to phone me. Paul had been whisked away to wherever they take people who pass away in hospital and the nurses had been upset but now they were changing the sheets and wiping down the latex mattress to make room for the next patient who was waiting in the emergency department to come into the ward, and the whole process would start again. My legs were hurrying automatically now; surely, she was taking me to a quiet room where she’d break the news. What would I tell Tilly? How would I explain what had happened and that I had been the one who started it all?
But I knew that didn’t make sense. As much as Paul and I were at each other, he wouldn’t forget to call me if our son had died. And Cameron had been perfectly well – physically – yesterday. They must have moved him to another ward, or a waiting room before he was discharged, that was all.
Jasmine paused at the nurses’ desk and murmured to another nurse whose name I didn’t know. This woman raised her eyebrows and opened her mouth in a way that could only be interpreted as alarm, then saw me looking at her and closed her mouth again. She nodded then bowed her head and Jasmine turned back to me.
‘We’re just paging Dr Chan to come and have a chat. He’ll be here as soon as possible.’
‘I’m just here for the meeting. Wasn’t it at nine-thirty?’
Jasmine bit her lip then spoke. ‘The meeting was cancelled.’
‘Cancelled? But no one told me. Why?’
Jasmine stepped towards me, gently, her hand raised towards my shoulder. ‘I’m sorry, Emily, we need to wait for Dr Chan, he’ll be here in a few minutes and explain everything.’
I stepped back, my hands starting to tremble. ‘Jasmine. Where’s Cameron? Is he okay? Has something—’
‘Oh, Emily, Cameron’s fine, I promise. I thought you… Paul said you knew.’
‘Knew what?’ My chin began to quiver as I understood what had happened, who had cancelled the meeting, and why. I reached for the back of a chair. Paul. ‘When—’
Jasmine was almost whispering. ‘First thing this morning. About two hours ago.’
I had always thought, despite everything, that Paul loved Cameron and wanted the best for him. But now, for the first time, I no longer knew who Paul was, and I no longer knew what he was capable of. He had gone, and he had taken Cameron with him.
I turned around and I ran.
There are so many interesting issues running through this novel which poses some thought provoking questions about children with special needs and whether they should be medicalised or dealt with from a different perspective. Dawn's experience as a psychiatrist gives it a feeling of authenticity and truth. You see the story through two perspectives: Paul's and Emily's, and this moves the narrative on at a steady pace.
You get to see that all of the family members have issues and feelings of lack of control. Cameron's needs impact on all of them and it shows how devastating it can be when both parents have opposing ideas on how to proceed. I found Emily's misplaced guilt and need to not be seen as a failing parent to be quite powerful as she was pushed to the limit. All the characters are vulnerable in their own way as Paul's downward spiral into addiction shows.
In short: An excellent family drama with a depth of feeling and thought- provoking issues.
About the Author
Dawn Barker is a psychiatrist and author. She grew up in Scotland, then in 2001 she moved to Australia, completed her psychiatric training and began writing. Her first novel, Fractured, was selected for the 2010 Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre manuscript development programme, was one of Australia's bestselling debut fiction titles for 2013, and was shortlisted for the 2014 WA Premier's Book Awards. Her second novel is Let Her Go. Dawn lives in Perth with her husband and three young children.
Thanks to Dawn Barker and Ellie Pilcher of Canelo for a copy of the book and a place on the tour.
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