Little Book,  Middle grade

A Room Full Of Chocolate

Jane Elson
a room full of chocolateGrace’s fun loving Mum has found a lump. Her north London world of sleepovers, tap dancing and playing the clarinet fall apart when she is sent to live with her grumpy old granddad on his farm in Yorkshire while her mother goes into hospital to get better.
Grace misses her mother so much it hurts, and doesn’t quite understand what is happening to her. And things go from bad to worse when she starts school and becomes the bullies newest target.
But Grace is no longer alone when she meets the wild Megan and her pig, Claude – when she’s with them she feels as if she can confront anything. At Easter time when Grace misses her mum the most, she knows she must find a way to get to London. With Megan’s help, she hatches a plan to run away that involves Claude, chocolate Easter eggs and a risky ID swap. But it’s all worth it if it means that she finally gets to see her mum.

I started reading A Room Full Of Chocolate with the expectation that I was going to love it. The synopsis had caught my attention the first time I come across it, while the extremely positive reviews of bloggers I respect had me moving it swiftly to the top of my TBR. While there was so much that I loved about this debut middle grade novel my biggest issue was that I was unable to disengage my adult, or more correctly parental brain.
I was immediately drawn to Grace and her seemly contradictory story. Her innocent, artless voice, filled with imagination and fuelled by love felt completely genuine.
I was blown away with the author’s exploration of Grace’s emotions. There was a really authentic quality to the experience and I found that I was able to fully empathise with Grace’s feelings of bewilderment, frustration and at times, anger. The descriptions used to express Graces emotions were simple enough for the target audience to comprehend and yet fully encapsulated the experience and the emotion, I couldn’t help thinking, “yes, that’s exactly how that feels”.
Megan, the rainbow girl, was a fantastic character. She really was a refreshing splash of colour in Grace’s otherwise gloomy grey world. She was unique, confident in herself and a fast but loyal friend.
However, this story created such conflict within me. On the one hand, I felt my heart break a little each time Grace attempted to deny to herself what was really happening to her mother. I just wanted to wrap her up and protect her from ever having to find out the hurtful truth. Yet I also felt her frustration at the adults around her for doing just that.
While I enjoyed the journey Grace and Megan undertook to get to Graces mother in London, willing them to succeed and feeling tension at the obstacles they encountered, as a parent I couldn’t help feeling disappointed at the absence of repercussions for such a journey. While I could probably overlook this issue had the book been a fantasy, as a contemporary book grounded in realism, I felt that more reference should have been made to the safety issues associated with a 10 and 11 year old taking off on their own for hundreds of miles.
The bullying storyline escalated quickly and resolved violently. I found the bullying scenes difficult to read as they really engaged my emotions. The use of technology to aid the bullies was an interesting and modern twist. Although I would have preferred Grace to have dealt with the situation differently – by confiding in a trusted adult – I am content that through her mishandling of the situation the message, to talk to someone and to not keep harmful secrets, will be received by the reader.
I felt uncomfortable with the way adults were generally portrayed within the book. The teachers came across as incompetent and far too shouty with very little regard to Grace’s situation as a new student or her family circumstances, and completely oblivious to the bullying she was experiencing.
Though her behaviour occurred through her attempts to protect Grace, Grace’s mother was secretive and dishonest. Grace’s father was completely selfish and her grandfather cold, strict and judgmental against Megan’s family – the only “nice adults”. Considering they plied Grace with chocolate, smoked “funny cigarettes” and encouraged Grace to be deceitful to her grandfather (sneaking out at night) I really don’t blame his misgivings.
My conflicted feelings persist. There is so much to love and treasure about this book; the friendship, the voice, the emotional expression, that I would never deny my child the opportunity of reading it. However, the middle grade category covers such a broad spectrum developmentally that I would be more comfortable recommending this book to an 11+ year old experienced reader than I would a nine year old.
Regardless of the personal nit picks I have expressed A Room Full Of Chocolate addresses some very serious themes; parental illness, honesty between parent and child, bullying and personal safety, which I would be reluctant for my (hypothetical) nine year old to explore on their own. Subsequently, I think that this would be a fantastic book for parents to share with their child, sparking dialogue about the issues and emotions raised and allowing the family unit to explore alternative courses of action.
Verdict: Unlike chocolate, this one is for sharing.
Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Hodder
Publication Date: February 2014
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Genre: Contemporary
Age: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Provided by publisher

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