Author: David Owen
Published: Corsair, Little, Brown; May 2015
Genre: Contemporary YA
My rating: 4.5/5
The blurb says:
"Life isn't going terribly well for Derrick.
He has become severely overweight, his only friend has turned on him, he is hopelessly in love with a girl way out of his league, and it's all because of his sister. Her depression - its grip on his family - is tearing his life apart.
When Derrick hears local news reports that a panther has been sighted roaming wild in his south London suburb, he resolves to capture the beast. Surely if he can find a way to trap this predator on his own turf, he can stop everything at home from spiralling towards disaster?
WHAT I THOUGHT
This is not a book that looks beautifully and delicately at teenage depression, through rose-tinted glasses before tying it off with a nice, happy ending and a pretty pink ribbon. It's honest; often brutally so, and it's unforgiving. I know YA has a (highly undeserved *cough* Daily Mail *cough*) reputation for being miserable and morose and depressing (please see #happyYA if you don't know what I'm talking about) but it's done well, and in a way that its readers can relate to; and that's surely more important than filling some quota on happily-ever-after stories?
Anyway, Panther. The book tells the story of Derrick; whose sister is battling a crippling depression. Derrick, like many, cannot understand it; why can't she just snap out of it and get on with her life? All Derrick can see is that it has torn his family apart and he can't see a way to fix it. That is until the rumours of the panther roaming round town begin again; Derrick believes that if he finds and captures this panther, it will fix his sister and it will fix all of the messes her depression caused; his dad leaving, the loss of his best (and only) friend Tamoor, his own eating disorder, the unfortunate event at school that led to some very vicious bullying. He refuses to believe that there’s nothing to be done and he clings to the hope that he will bring her a reason to snap out of it.
Depression is not an easy subject to tackle; there's a reason it rarely gets a proper investigation in literature. And David Owen could have very easily got it wrong. But by writing it from Derrick's perspective rather than his sister Charlotte's, David made it even more gripping and even more relatable. While depression may not be something we all experience personally, it is something most people will see in others and it's difficult to grasp, it's difficult to put yourself in their shoes, as it were, and truly understand what they're going through unless you've been through it yourself. We get to watch as Derrick struggles, and ultimately fails, to grasp this and it culminates into a heartbreaking, brutal climax. Derrick is possibly sometimes a little difficult to read. The book in general is sometimes a little difficult to read; but that’s down to the subject really and nothing else. David tries to lighten the tone slightly but it’s not a subject that can be easily eased with levity. But I think that’s why this book is so brilliant – it’s not just thought-provoking, it forces you to think about depression in a way that I think a lot of people are scared to do. Derrick is selfish, and stubborn, and immensely close-minded at times, but that seems, to me, to be quite realistic. How else do you react? It is human nature to want to find something or someone to blame for your troubles so why not blame this uncooperative, unexplainable thing that has invaded your life? And I think that’s what makes this such a hard read, because it is these points so easy to understand and relate to.
I would absolutely recommend this book. I value the honesty of David’s portrayal of teenage depression, a subject so often neglected. He didn’t write it with kid gloves on and he portrayed the way depression permeates everything it touches and how people struggle to deal with it without flowers and beauty but with a raw necessity. David has absolutely made his mark with this unflinching, unapologetic debut and I look forward to what he’ll bring in the future.
Also, make sure you follow him on Twitter @davidowenauthor; in my opinion, his tweets are mostly just daily musings but they're up there with Patrick Ness' and, to me, that's really saying something. Assuming you value my opinion at all.
Thanks for reading,
Naomi Joy x