Grow Blog Tour: Guest Post from Luke Palmer

Hello everybody! Today, I’m very pleased to be part of the blog tour for Grow by Luke Palmer, with a guest post on the theme of mental health from the author. Onto the post!

Coming off the back of 18 months of lockdowns and social distancing, it’s something of a hack opener to state that we’ve never been so aware of mental health, especially among young people. But it’s a context which has – for me – shed new light on the experiences of Josh, the protagonist and narrator of Grow. 

Josh is lonely. He is lonely and he is isolated. I’m sure many of us have experienced the difference between loneliness and physically being alone, and know that it’s possible to feel lonelier in a packed room than on a solitary walk, perhaps miles away from another person, although lockdown has certainly tested these definitions to breaking point. And Josh, too, has compounded his isolation; in addition to his feelings of loneliness after losing his father, Josh felt he was singled out and isolated from his peers and even his family. His coping mechanism is to double down on this and ‘choose’ to separate himself from others. By the start of the book, it’s gotten beyond the point where Josh’s mental health is suffering. Josh can no longer tell the difference between his imposed isolation and his ‘choice’ to keep himself to himself. 

I say ‘choice’ with a degree of archness. I think we often grant ourselves with more free-will than we have. A few times in the book, Josh mentions that iconic vision of self-sufficiency, the dystopian version of a man in his Hobbesian ‘true state of nature’: an independent survivor who can look after himself, who is strong, and doesn’t need anyone’s help. I use male pronouns here pointedly, because it is, for the most part, a ‘guy’ thing. There is an increasing volume of writing on constructions of masculinity (I’d point you towards Grayson Perry’s ‘The Descent of Man’ as a great starting point, and it has a brilliant reading list in the back, too) but men remain stuck, it often seems to me, in patterns of behaviour that lead to significant issues in terms of mental health. We mistake ‘loneliness’ for ‘independence’; we mislabel ‘isolated’ as ‘self-sufficient’. And it starts young, too. I thought we’d dealt with gendered expectations for infants when I was young, but they’re certainly back. And, it seems, with a vengeance. 

Josh’s reaction to grief is to withdraw into himself. It’s not an uncommon reaction, nor is there or should there be any blame or stigma attached to that. But Josh gets stuck. He’s just doing ‘what men do’. He doesn’t think he’s vulnerable, but he most certainly is, and that vulnerability gets exploited. It gets turned to anger, and then to a feeling that is perhaps the great un-spoken scourge of many complex social issues at the moment – shame. It is a vicious cycle that can lead to rapid decline, and it threatens to overwhelm Josh.   

There is no easy answer, but taking down the walls around Josh’s isolation certainly helps. Josh is lucky enough to find Dana, who allows Josh to access parts of himself that he had let wither and almost die completely. Josh learns that being vulnerable, and tending to others, is a much healthier choice. He chooses empathy and connectedness, vulnerability and the ensuing co-dependency that it brings. He realises that this is where true strength lies.

It’s not been the best of years to practice these things, but perhaps there have been some upsides to spending so much time in forced (relative) isolation. Common experiences have meant people are talking more freely about how lockdown has affected their mental health, and are discussing mental health more widely. We’ve also had to make bigger efforts to reach out to others, and perhaps we value our connections much more now, no longer taking them for granted. 

I’m preaching to the choir here, but books have helped, too. And they can continue to do so. Books are little machines for building empathy, for escaping into and experiencing vulnerability in a space that feels safer than real life. But, as you know, we can bring those experiences back with us from wherever books help us travel to.  

I’d be very proud if you’d travel with Josh on his journey, and would love to know the experiences you return with. 

Thank you so much for reading! Are you planning to pick this up? What are some of your favourite books that tackle topics of mental health? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Amy x


Author: goldenbooksgirl

Disabled book blogger who also writes TV, film, music and other posts from time to time | UKYABA Champion Teen 2018 | Email: | she/her

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