Title: We Used To Be Kings
Author: Stewart Foster
Publisher: Vintage Books
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Buy it: Here
Tom's brother, Jack, died in a fire when he was five. The next day he was back. The only thing is, Jack now shares Tom's body. Jack is alive in Tom's head and they are plotting an escape; an escape from their care home, away from the doctors and off to the sea. They are going to find their dad who went missing five years ago, after he joined the Russian cosmonauts on a mission to the moon...
There seems to be a surge of fiction that challenges the stigmas associated with mental illness and learning disabilities at the moment. Only recently, The Shock Of The Fall has won the Costa Book Prize for its story of a man suffering with split personalities. Maggot Moon won the Carnegie Prize for it's portrayal of Standish Treadwell, a boy suffering with dyslexia who is entirely misunderstood. And here, in We Used To Be Kings, I hope we have another award winner; for it's tale of brotherly love and mental illness is beautifully and sensitively told.
It took a chapter or two to get used to the writing style. Stewart Foster writes Jack and Tom separately, but as one - interchanging "We" and "I" in the space of a breath, and no speech punctuation to differentiate between what is said and what is told. There are simply italics for Jack's voice. Tom's speech merges with narration which can be a bit confusing at the beginning. However, once in the swing of it, I was completely sucked in. I couldn't put the book down!
Both Jack and Tom's voices were individual and, at the same time, unified. I think Foster's biggest achievement in the two voices was the portrayal of the age gap between the boys - Tom 18, and Jack 10. There are some wonderful moments when Tom swears or has interest in a girl and Jack's naivety tellingly shines through. Tom also has a heartbreaking patience for his younger brother, allowing him temporary control of his body to play with planes and draw.
However, there is a dark underside to this tale, as you remind yourself constantly that however much these two characters appear separate, they are the same. Tom has had a traumatic past of lies and loss, and is, in fact, just days away from electric therapy to remove Jack's voice from his head completely. And, in the end, it is the one thing he fears most, as Tom writes the final chapter of his story.
There is so much adoration I could pour onto We Used To Be Kings. It was absolutely, 100% excellent and I will be recommending it to everyone I know! READ. THIS. BOOK.