The Blurb On The Back:
”Someone in your life has died, and they are not coming back.” What a HUGE thing to say.
Grief can feel like a boat ride on a stormy ocean, but what if you had a lighthouse to guide you safely to shore? You Will Be Okay will help you navigate through the hard emotions you feel when someone you know has died, with practical activities, stories from others who have been through it and tips on how to talk about your grief. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, you just need to find your way.
You will be okay.
YOU WILL BE OKAY was released in the United Kingdom on 19th August 2021. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Julie Stokes is a clinical psychologist and executive leadership coach with a background in palliative care, who founded a grief support service called Winston’s Wish to support bereaved children. This is a deeply compassionate, well written and timely book that’s sensitively illustrated by Laurène Boglio and offers practical guidance to children aged 9+ on how to handle a bereavement, including how to process and talk about their emotions.
I picked this up because the COVID pandemic has sadly resulted in many families being impacted by bereavement on a scale not seen since the 1918 influenza pandemic so there is sadly a greater need for this book than would perhaps ordinarily be the case. I do not say this to diminish non-COVID bereavements, merely to point out that it has perhaps heightened societal awareness of the impact on younger people. I would stress that while Stokes does talk about COVID, she also bring in death through violence, suicide, sudden deaths through heart attacks and long-term illness so this is not a COVID-only book – this is a book that can be given to children dealing with a breadth of situations.
This book is aimed at readers aimed 9+ but it doesn’t baby-talk to the reader and I think there’s more than enough here to be of use to older children, teens and even adults. Certainly I found some of the techniques useful and I appreciated the way that Stokes talks about the complications of grief and how you can feel grief about someone who was not necessarily a good person but who you nonetheless mourn. This is all complicated emotional stuff but she explains it clearly and she also makes clear how it is okay to feel those conflicting emotions while giving tips on how to process them – not because you will no longer feel grief for them or stop missing them but because it will help you to process and move on while remembering them.
What helps is that Stokes talks about her own experiences of grief as she had lost her own father and she also laces the text with examples from children who she has actually helped (all anonymised) and examples of famous people such as Dawn French, who have talked publicly about their experiences of grief. The effect is to “normalise” it and make clear that it’s okay to talk about it, which has to be the right starting place. Also worth a mention is how Stokes and the publisher have used different ways of setting out text to keep readers interested and I really want to give props to Boglio’s illustrations, which are sensitive and moving and really help to bring additional meaning to Stokes’s text. I was particularly pleased that she doesn’t just use white children in the illustrations but instead has children from different ethnic groups, which helps readers to understand the universality of it.
The book explains to children how to develop 7 of what Stokes called “grief muscles”: trust, confidence, memory, grief mindset , grit and flexible feelings. As she goes through each of these she gives readers different techniques for each such as using memory stones, building memory boxes, tips on how to have courageous conversations and how to deal with negative emotions. There’s also a chapter on the importance of taking physical care of yourself, such as eating healthily and getting a good night’s sleep (and she explains how this ties back to good mental health) and the book ends with a set of references for readers who want to know more. There are also exercises that readers can do throughout the book to put into practice some of Stokes’s suggestions.
All in all, I thought that this was a very sensitive, personal and compassionate read and I really think that both children and adult readers would get a lot from it – in the case of adults, by giving them a means of helping children get through it. I literally only had one quibble in the whole thing and that is when Stokes talks about the death of Dawn French’s father by suicide, she mentions the means by which he carried it out. Being honest, although I get that it’s a very natural question to ask (and therefore can see why it would be in there) and in keeping with the honest way in which Stokes addresses the reader, I didn’t think that was really necessary and given the target age group, I did wonder about the wisdom in doing so. That was literally my only quibble though and I would stress that I do otherwise think that this is an excellent book that will hopefully do a lot of good and offer support to children and teenagers.