A thoughtful, funny and engaging debut novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. M is For Mammy is the story of The Auggusts: Annette, Kevin and their two children 10-year-old Jenny and 5-year-old Jacob. Jacob is autistic and until Mammy suffers a debilitating stroke the family are coping.

They are a happy and loving family albeit with complications, but then every family has their complications. And that’s why this book works so well. Every family has issues, challenges and secrets that they don’t talk about. In M is For Mammy Eleanor O’Reilly has put dealing with a stroke victim and coping with an autistic child centre of her debut novel and portrayed dealing with these challenges brilliantly.

Family life is shattered when their Annette suffers a stroke and is sent to Dublin for rehabilitation. Kevin is devastated and floundering. Jenny struggles to cope believing she should be the Mammy looking after Jacob and the house. That’s when Granny moves in much to everyone’s dismay.

Granny Mae-Anne sweeps in to take control of the situation with the best will in the world albeit in a manner she firmly believes is right. She has her own views on how families should work, how a house should be kept and what children should be doing. There is a loving frustration with her “feckless son-in-law”, she adores her grandchildren although struggles with understanding Jacob and how to deal with his autism. Throughout the novel there is no doubt that Granny loves her family and wants to do the best for them and help them cope. Granny is a wonderful character and one of the stars of the book.

Jenny’s voice in the story is strong as she is caught between her Dad and Granny arguing, her Mammy not being able to speak and helping her Granny understand Jacob. Throughout all this everyone misses how Jenny is coping. When she begins to fall behind at school the teachers step in to help. The storyline of the school dealing with Jenny is powerful and shines a light on the role schools can and do play in dealing with family issues.

The novel captures brilliantly what it must be like to be autistic and the impact it has on families. I was really routing for the family, wanting them to come out the other side of this trauma together. The novel also portrays very well what happens to families when a life changing event such as a stroke occurs and the ramifications of it.

There is plenty of humour in the book to lighten the story. The conversations between Granny and Kevin are superb as are the conversations Granny has with Jenny. I adored the chat and banter between Granny and Jenny who are the stars of the book. For me Eleanor has found a way to write about serious issues that affect families with the right balance of humour to make M is For Mammy a hugely enjoyable read.

Two Roads/ 9781473672352/£12.99

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