Some books touch me so deeply I find it almost impossible to write a review. ‘A Heart for Robbie’ is such a book. No matter how hard I think about it, no matter how often I start this review I can’t seem to find the words to convey exactly what this book did to me. I don’t seem to have the language to explain everything I thought and felt while reading this story. I’ll try though because I do want to share my love for this book and admiration for the author with as wide an audience as possible.
‘A Heart for Robbie’ is a book with several layers all of which are fully developed and brought to a plausible and satisfactory conclusion. First and foremost this is little Robbie’s story. We watch his father, Julian, as he tries to come to grips with the unimaginable; his much wanted baby boy, born with a heart defect. Because there is no way to understand or accept that the child you love so dearly and wanted so badly may not live to see his first birthday. You don’t come to terms with that. All you can do is deal as best you can; bestow all your love on the child while you hope for a miracle. And that’s where it all gets extra poignant because the miracle you are waiting for means another child has to die. You feel your own heart breaking as your child gets sicker and know exactly how devastated a parent is when they are faced with the loss of a child and yet, that is what you have to pin your hopes on.
Julian’s emotions are described with such clarity the reader can almost feel them – I say almost because I don’t think anyone can really imagine what it is like to (almost) lose a child unless they’ve actually been through that experience. And yet this book isn’t all doom and gloom. Julian lives as normal a life as he can with Robbie. He goes through all the worries and anxieties all new parents face, except that his are amplified because of Robbie’s condition. The fact that the reader does recognise so many of those first-time parent moments, means that it is easier to identify with Julian while it also allows the reader to take a quick breather occasionally.
I loved Simon’s part of the story. The poor man is so afraid of losing his parents and ending up all alone that he’d rather live a lie. And yet, the moment his secrecy might make Robbie’s situation even more precarious than it already is, he puts his own concerns behind him and steps up to the plate. In fact all of Julian and Simon’s love story was a joy to read. It was a great way of showing that even during the most tragic of times life does go on. That wonderful things can and do happen even in the midst of nightmares. The relationship gave Julian the strength to keep on putting one foot in front of the other and the reader the opportunity to keep on reading without drowning in a black hole of sadness.
This book could easily have been an unrelenting tear-jerker. The fact that it isn’t is testament to the wonderful craftsmanship of J.P. Barnaby. She introduced exactly the right amount of lighter touches to keep this very poignant story both realistic and bearable. I loved the way Julian could see the characters from his book and have conversations with them, even if it did also show exactly how lonely the man was. I adored the fact that Liam, the main character from Julian’s young adult books wore a Sinner’s Gin T-shirt; a nice wink in the direction of Rhys Ford.
Of course the real heartbreak comes when you realise that this story is based on, and dedicated, to Kaitlyn, the baby daughter J.P. Barnaby lost almost two decades ago. I’ll never know where she found the strength and courage to write this story. I do know the world is a better place because she did. This reader is grateful and feels privileged to have been allowed to read this powerful, beautiful, and life-affirming story.
On a different note, if J.P. Barnaby ever feels inclined to write those Black Heart stories I for one would be delighted to read them.