Reviews /

What the World Doesn’t See

Authored by Mel Darbon
Illustrated by Cover illustration by Adams Carvalho
Published by Usborne Publishing Ltd

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‘I looked for Mum. I couldn’t find her. I didn’t find Dad. He never came back.That was lots of time ago. It made me full of sad.Then the bees came. Inside my head. They wouldn’t leave me alone. Buzzzzzz.’ (pg. 28)

What the World Doesn’t See is, hands down, my top read so far of 2024!  This is the heartfelt, dual narrative-style tale of siblings Maudie and Jake – both navigating the recent death of their father and experiencing the effects of their mother’s ensuing grief and depression. Jake has severe learning difficulties, a character that was shaped from the real-life experiences of author Mel Darbon. In her author’s note, she shares:

‘I wrote my book, What the World Doesn’t See, because I wanted to give my brother a voice that he couldn’t have for himself. I hoped by doing so that it might give a voice to others like him too, or that readers might recognise in him either themselves or someone they know.’

One day, Maudie and Jake discover that their mother has left their family home without explanation. Their aunt is put in charge, but struggles to cope with Jake’s specific needs. As a result, she ends of placing him in care, but this does not sit well with Maudie. She hatches a plan to kidnap Jake from his carer and travel with him to Cornwall (full of memories from past family holidays), where she is hoping her mother will take the decision to find them.

I found the dual narrative style of the novel refreshing. As events unfold, the reader is invited into alternative perspectives, building empathy and understanding of inner thoughts and reactions to what is happening. Each character is written with love in this absorbing YA novel. I particularly enjoyed reading the chapters from Jake’s perspective – an enlightening opportunity to step into the shoes of another person.

The special relationship between Maudie and Jake is sensitively developed. Maudie constantly feels that she is not doing enough for her brother, but comes to realise that Jake is there for her, too. Maudie’s friend Liv is a grounding force, helping to keep her choices in perspective and providing support from afar. I particularly enjoyed the character of the caravan site owner Brae and his interactions with Jake, seeing him as a person, rather than a person with learning difficulties. Each character beautifully adds to the themes of care and resilience, a refreshing read highlighting the willingness of strangers to help others in need.

The inclusive representation of the range of characters provides the reader with a well-rounded perspective. Characters with learning difficulties, autism and other forms of neurodivergence are sensitively written, as is the handling of characters experiencing grief and depression. What the World Doesn’t See is a powerhouse of a novel, inviting opportunities for both reflection and discussion, considering how we view ourselves and others in a diverse world.

Selected for the Empathy Lab 2024 Collection

Shortlisted for the Waterstones Book Award 2024 Older Readers 11+ Category