The first aspect of this book that intrigued me was the artwork. The cover shows an exhausted, confused child face to face with a monster of some kind. Eye to eye. Toe to toe. It’s quite disturbing.
“A Monster Ate My Mum” by Jen Faulkner, and illustrated beautifully by Helen Braid, is a children’s book about post natal depression. It’s a bold move to convey such hidden, violent feelings into a book. It can’t be an easy thing, explaining post natal depression to your own child. With what limited experience I have personally I doubt I’d be able to get to the nub of it. Any form of depression is a monster of an unknown quantity. It is born in a place unfathomable to the mind. It cannot help but grow.
The plot follows a young boy as he searches for the answers for his mum’s PND. Along the way he meets a handful of monsters who have not only eaten his mummy’s spirit, they each appear to symbolise aspects of the author’s depression. Her smile, her laugh etc. Interestingly each of the monsters play a rather passive, somewhat friendly part. There is a feeling that the threat has already passed. That the monsters have been there for a long time. Certainly it’s evident that the author is all too well acquainted with each one.
Perhaps this is an indication of when the author had begun to turn a psychological corner with her illness. The characterisation of an inner problem. The unknown becoming all too real.
At times the prose doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. There are some parts that need explaining. The end has a touch of sadness to it. However this only adds to the layering of the experience of PND. The infinite uncertainty on all sides. For subject matter such as this, explaining it must a tread onto a murky but evidently personal path. Some feelings are almost impossible to put into words. Jen has done a fine job of explaining her story to us but, as with any depression, you can’t put everything into words.
The illustrations add a mood laden vibrancy to the story. The use of rich, textual backgrounds show an almost dreamlike state as the boy wanders through his mother’s mind. The choice and use of particular colours cleverly indicate mood and setting. Each monster is less than threatening which makes it an easier read for younger children.
In conclusion I would say that this book tackles a personal and often devastating subject very well. I respect the author for exploring these depths of her illness. I enjoyed the emotional, colour fueled journey of the young boy. It is important that these journeys, and these feelings are discussed and explored. It is important that they become less of a stigma and more of a strange comfort.
You can find out more, and buy the title, here.