Reviews /

Finding Phoebe

Authored by Gavin Extence
Published by Andersen Press Ltd

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Phoebe and Bethany have been best friends since they were small. Living on Holy Island means that sometimes, when the tides dictate, they must stay in boarding on the mainland where they share a room. Entering into Year 11 brings changes for them both but the question that sits at the heart of this lovely YA novel is whether the changes will be to their friendship as well.

Written as a letter from Phoebe to her long dead mother, this beautiful book captures a sense of what it means to be a neurodiverse teenage girl. Extence writes a letter to readers in the ‘Author’s Note’ that he intends the book to act as a letter to his ten-year-old daughter who received an autism diagnosis at the age of four. This close connection to the main character means that the story is told with genuine love. But it also outlines how difficult it can be for the parents of young people, especially in times of family trauma.

A lot happens to Phoebe and Bethany in this novel but as a teacher of this age group, no more than I’ve actually seen happen in the real world. What’s important is the ways that the characters deal with the problems and Phoebe’s diagnosis can make it very difficult for her to deal with change and stress. Because the story is told from Phoebe’s perspective readers get to see some of the dilemmas that she faces – how to behave when somebody is in a strop with you, how to help when you can’t read the signs clearly, how to process when people you know and love don’t behave the way that you expect. All of this is handled so carefully, so lovingly and so poignantly.

Extence’s daughter Amelia is one lucky little girl. She clearly has the most incredible parents. The letter that they wrote to their daughter, incorporated into the story, made me weep. The frustration of the parents was also well handled. This novel focuses on parents trying their hardest to provide answers for their children – neurodiverse or not. Bethany’s parents have an equally engaging characterisation; as a parent I found myself both nodding in agreement and shaking my head in horror. Parenting is hard and being the parent of girls undergoing so many changes is even harder.

YA readers in the older teen age bracket will love this story. Phoebe and Bethany are brilliantly drawn characters. Alongside the tears there are also some laugh out loud funny moments. Gavin Extence has wielded the wit and the poignancy with perfect balance.

I loved this.

Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2024