‘A Library of Lemons’ by Jo Cotterill is a bittersweet tale of Calypso and her father who are both in their own ways wrapped up in books, hiding from their grief. Calypso’s Mum died a few years ago and her Dad has retreated, distancing himself from the world. He can’t, or won’t, talk about her Mum and instead throws himself into writing his book A History of the Lemon. In a dusty and neglected house where there’s never any food in the fridge, Calypso escapes into her own world where she seeks comfort amongst her favourite books.
Encouraged to isolate herself from the world by her father and draw on her inner strength, Calypso is confused when a new girl, Mae, arrives at school and seeks her out. Hesitant at first, they soon form a close bond as the girls’ shared love of reading and writing stories draws them together. She discovers that there is more to life than books and begins to understand the true power of friendship as Mae and her family make her feel more normal than she has for a long time. But when Calypso finally plucks up the courage to invite Mae over to her own house, the girls discover the truth about her dad and Calypso’s happiness starts to unravel as her world is rocked one more time.
This beautiful, poignant story of grief and friendship strongly resonated with me. As a child who found comfort and solace in reading watching Calypso do the same was incredibly emotional. Her love of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and ‘The Lady of Shalott’ reflected my own literary choices when I was younger and her joy at finding a kindred spirit who prefers imaginary worlds to the real world is truly joyful. It is heart breaking watching her trying to desperately connect with her father and being subjected to his mood swings of despair and joy. It is only when she sees the true extent of her father’s sadness that she fully realises that something is very wrong. Can Calypso rewrite her broken family and find their happy ending?
However this is a book is not all about sadness, it offers hope and light and allows Calypso the possibility of a chance at happiness with the promise of a better future lying ahead. There are many funny moments between Calypso and Mae, my favourite being when their self published book receives a terrible review. Mae is so distraught, that Calypso assumes something is drastically wrong. Her overactive imagination leaps to the conclusion that it must be something horrendous like she is dying from cancer. When Mae responds that it is worse than that and they’ve had a bad review, it was hard not to stifle a laugh. Their dramatic reactions are marvellously entertaining and their genuine sorrow at this event is fabulous. I truly loved this book and found myself becoming very attached to the characters, it really spoke to the 9 year old inside of me. Having passed it on to my eldest daughter her reaction was ‘this is the best book ever, find me more like it Mummy’ I think that says it all!