All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Please Don’t Hug Me by Kay Kerr

on October 11, 2021

Please Don’t Hug Me
Kay Kerr
Text Publishing
2020, 288p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A funny-serious own-voices story about what happens when you stop trying to be the person other people expect you to be and give yourself a go.

Erin is looking forward to Schoolies, at least she thinks she is. But things are not going to plan. Life is getting messy, and for Erin, who is autistic, that’s a big problem. She’s lost her job at Surf Zone after an incident that clearly was not her fault. Her driving test went badly even though she followed the instructions perfectly. Her boyfriend is not turning out to be the romantic type. And she’s missing her brother, Rudy, who left almost a year ago.

But now that she’s writing letters to him, some things are beginning to make just a tiny bit of sense.

If I had to think of one word to describe this book, I think it’d be “raw”.

I’d had it on my radar for a while, mostly for the cover I think. Who doesn’t love a cinnamon donut? I wasn’t sure why the cover was cinnamon donuts, but it turns out that when our main character Erin has a bad day, her best friend brings her hot cinnamon donuts from a donut chain here in Australia called Donut King (who do absolutely excellent hot cinnamon donuts). This was something I could definitely get behind. I know donuts would definitely make a bad day better for me.

Erin is autistic and at the moment, she is going through a time. She’s in her final year of school, navigating everything that brings and means especially with her diagnosis, which means that situations that are not stressful for others, or that they enjoy, are not something that Erin enjoys. She only really has one proper friend, the rest of the group are just friends with her best friend and seem to regard Erin as an inevitability and generally treat her with indifference ranging to hostility. Erin doesn’t enjoy parties or large social gatherings but she’s saving for schoolies anyway, because it’s sold as this defining experience – the reward of all your 13 years hard work. Losing her job doesn’t help with this and for some unknown reason, Erin is writing open letters to her older brother Rudy.

Erin and Rudy are clearly very different – Rudy comes across through Erin’s letters as a larrikin, a life of the party sort, the type of person that everyone loves to have around, who pulls pranks and occasionally gets in trouble – maybe pushes the envelope a bit. He’s also a source of conflict in the house, due to his mother’s enabling and protecting of him when he does things like drop out of TAFE (technical college) and the like, versus their father’s frustration with him. For some reason, Rudy isn’t around anymore and Erin’s writing to him is a form of therapy as some sort of anniversary approaches. There’s a couple of possibilities for Rudy’s absence from Erin’s life and it’s not until well into the book that the reason for Rudy not being there for Erin to talk to is revealed.

Everything in this book is told from Erin’s point of view in one of her letters to Rudy: her life at school, her at times tenuous friendship with her best friend, the fracturing of her family, her struggles with the world around her and her anger at Rudy for not being there anymore to make things better. It’s very powerful to read a lot of Erin’s thoughts and things that happen to her from her own point of view, particularly things where she doesn’t understand what she could’ve done differently to achieve a different outcome or understand the outcome itself.

Throughout the book, Erin finds strength to stand up for herself in certain circumstances, such as against her boyfriend Mitch, who treats her with condescension verging on gaslighting, as well as choosing options that make her comfortable rather than her doing things because her friend wants to. She develops a voice, perhaps through writing the letters and getting some clarity whilst writing them. We also learn what happened to Rudy and how/why he isn’t around anymore and the impact that has had on everyone in and around Erin’s circle and especially, how that has impacted on Erin herself and how the letters are helping her process all of her feelings.

This is a quick read but very powerful. It’s an own voices story, with the author also being autistic and I think that it really shows in Erin’s character, that this comes from a place of deep understanding. There’s such an openness in the letters, perhaps because she’s writing to someone that she really cares about and through those letters, you get a good idea of the sibling relationship Erin and Rudy shared, despite being quite different. The things they knew about and confided in each other, the small ways in which Rudy tried to help Erin during difficult times, when things had become overwhelming for her. It all contributes to make the story of what happened, all the more deeply effective.

Despite the often dark tones, I felt like the ending of this book had a hopeful, uplifting sort of feel as well. Erin really did grow as a character throughout the course of the book and had learned in some ways, to express herself and put herself first in terms of what she wanted to do for herself and there were some positive signs for her family as well.

Would definitely recommend.

8/10

Book #172 of 2021

Please Don’t Hug Me is book #74 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021


One response to “Review: Please Don’t Hug Me by Kay Kerr

  1. Marg says:

    This is a new title to me!

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