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The Silver Chain

Authored by Jion Sheibani
Illustrated by Jion Sheibani
Published by Hot Key Books

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The Silver Chain is a coming of age story, an insight into the impact of struggles with mental illness on a family and an exploration of the power of music to heal, encourage and restore. All of these subjects are conveyed through verse and illustration adding considerable impact to the theme of the importance of creativity to our wellbeing. 

Sixteen year old Azadeh is promising violinist on a music scholarship to an expensive private school and recently moved up to the sixth form alongside her best friend Phoebe. Her father is from Iran, an electrician whose business is not doing well at the moment and her mother is English. Azadeh finds it hard to keep up with her peers and to fit in, feeling that she has to ‘pretend to be someone else.’ However, the routine of school life, her love of music and the support of her English and Music teachers is of great value to her. When Azadeh’s mum’s mental health deteriorates rapidly her efforts to support her father, continue with her studies and hide the truth from her fellow students starts to take its toll. The reader gets a true sense of Azadeh’s distress as she attempts to help her mother and at the same time maintain an impression of normality to others. It is through music and poetry that Azadeh finds comfort and ultimately her family take the first tentative steps towards recovery. 

The structure of this verse novel encourages the reader to engage with Azadeh on a personal level quickly and it is no surprise that this thoughtful book has been included in the 2023 Read for Empathy Collection. The poems telling the story are different in length and form conveying the different emotions experienced by Azadeh skilfully. Some are simple text messages or conversations, others are Azadeh’s memories, there are poems that are lyrical like her beloved music, some are full of anger and many are poignant. The position of the words on the page is an important part of the process and therefore providing a quote would, unfortunately, not convey the overall impact.  Jion Sheibani also created the stunning illustrations incorporating sheet music and conveying much alongside the text. This is very much a partnership of words and pictures in storytelling. There are specific pieces of music that are important to the story including Mars from Holst’s Planets Suite, Saint-Saëns The Swan and, in many ways the inspiration for the story, The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams. 

In addition to the themes of mental health this verse novel also highlights how Azadeh feels ‘foreign’ and finds it difficult to develop a sense of belonging to a nationality or a country. Both these subjects lend themselves to discussion in the classroom and this is a valuable book for this reason and others. Azadeh’s relationship with both parents is a loving and close one and through her bond with her father we get a small taste of his background too. The Silver Chain may also introduce readers to classical music and prompt them to listen to the pieces included in the story to great effect. When sharing this YA title teachers and school librarians would need to be aware that the story contains a suicide attempt so knowledge of the individual young people reading this book is an important consideration. It is however a hopeful book and one that deserves its inclusion on this year’s Carnegie Award for Writing longlist.