I knew from the minute I picked up How to Make Friends With the Dark that it was going to be hard work. It's one of those books where you need to be in a good space to read it but is there ever really a good time to read about grief? Nevertheless, I was keen to read Kathleen Glasgow's latest novel because I kept reading such great things about it.
Tiger Tolliver is sixteen and should be making mistakes, falling in love and being a normal teenager instead of worrying about unpaid bills and tiptoeing around her overprotective Mother. On a day that starts with an argument about a school dance, Tiger is incensed when her mother buys her a dress that can at best be described as grotesque and she's says some pretty unforgivable things. And then her mother dies.
In a devastating account of what can happen to a child when there is no known family to take care of them, Kathleen Glasgow takes us through Tiger's grief and pain, as well as her attempts to cope with her impossibly changed world. In so many ways, How to Make Friends With the Dark would make a great film but especially in how Glasgow conjures up an image of a broken teen in a dress that she cannot remove. It is a great metaphor for how we think people are recovering sooner than they are but how grief is ever-present, every minute of every day.
How to Make Friends With the Dark is a complex story, as complex as Tiger's experience of grief. There are many characters and settings which stayed with me long after I finished reading the book. On a personal level I found the book incredibly painful as I was taken into care at the same age as Tiger was and appallingly found myself relating to some of the worst events in the novel. I also related to Glasgow's afterword and how this instils in us a desire to look after children who are not our own, to give back.
Perhaps the most poignant part of How to Make Friends With the Dark is Tiger's mother's backstory, both as a child and an adult, and why she made the choices that she did. In a large sense, as a daughter, I was hesitant to read this book as it forced me to consider my own mother's mortality but it certainly made me appreciate her more.
How to Make Friends With the Dark is a raw and emotional novel. I related so much to Tiger's experience, especially that feeling of being skinned. In my own experience of grief, I felt like I'd stepped outside without my skin on. As I raced though those final chapters, I found myself crying into the dark hours of the night. It is a superb depiction of grief and the crazy things it does to your head.
As I'm sure is obvious, I'm not really sure how to review this novel without relating the extremely personal nature of the experience. Kathleen Glasgow has written a novel that draws the reader right in to Tiger's experience and to which you can relate on a visceral level. It's not an easy book to read and may be too painful for those in the throes of grief but sheds light on the grieving process for those seeking to understand it. Plus, it's just a really great story.
I give How to Make Friends With the Dark a superb five out of five stars. I'd highly recommend this book in classrooms as it would be powerful in stimulating discussion about one of the most difficult topics to talk about.
How to Make Friends With the Dark is currently available on Kindle for £2.99 (affiliate link, I will make a very small commission if you purchase using this link).