Amy is unflinchingly honest about her limitations. Born with cerebral palsy, she can’t walk or talk without help. But trapped inside this uncooperative body lies a brilliant mind and a luminous spirit – a girl capable of truly loving and worthy of being loved in return.
Matthew has his own set of challenges – a mind consumed by unwanted repeated thoughts, obsessive rituals and a crippling fear that he can't explain. But underneath all of the anxiety lies a deep seed of hope for someone to come along who believes in him…
This is the story of Amy and Matthew. It may not be a fairy tale romance or set in an imagined world far from our own. But the love they share is real. And yes, there's magic in it. From Goodreads
I have been really intrigued by Amy & Matthew by Cammie McGovern (Say What You Will in the US) since I first heard about it. A love story between two people where one is disabled and the other has a mental illness. So very different! When MHAM was first announced, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to read Amy & Matthew. And it is so beautiful!
Amy has cerebral palsy, and in her senior year decides to have her peers become her aides as she navigates school, rather than the adults she has always had. It's finally hit her that she doesn't actually have any friends, and she will be going off to college next year. Peer aides seems the perfect way to learn how to make friends and ineract socially with people her own age before she goes off into the unknown. Matthew is one of her aides, specifically asked for. It was because of him that Amy realised she didn't have friends, and thinks his honesty will help her work out where she's going wrong. What she doesn't know is that Matthew OCD and suffers from severe anxiety. Becoming one of Amy's peer aides is a huge deal, one that scares him more than he could say. But how can he say no? And so begins a beautiful friendship, one that slowly blossoms into something amazing.
Amy & Matthew is told in dual narrative third person, subtley moving from one character to another's narration, we get to see each characters thoughts/feelings/reactions at any given moment, or otherwise, whole chapters for themselves. Oh, Amy! Oh, Matthew! I love them both! Amy has such an awesome sense of humour! To be honest, I didn't know to much about cerebral palsy until reading this book, and was surprised at what I learned. Amy has problems controlling her body; she's unable to control the muscles on the left side of her body very much, has little control of her face, and can't talk well. She has a machine - her Pathway - that she types what she wants to say on to, and it speaks for her. Her body is affected, but her mind is not. Inside, she's just like you or me. Amy is super smart, and incredibly funny. Because of her disability, she has a unique view of the world, and some of the essays she writes are such real eye-openers. Because of her disability, and how she deals with it and is living her life, she won't take any excuses from Matthew - the only one, even out of her peers, who treats her like anyone else.
As I said, Matthew has OCD and severe anxiety. If he doesn't do certain things - wash his hands several times, tap very other locker in the hallway, etc - he's convinced something bad will happen. He knows logically, that's not the case, but the fear is all-consuming, and he can't ignore it. He tries so hard to keep it underwraps, but it's something people notice. His mother has tried talking to him about it, but he refuses to have the conversation. But Amy doesn't tiptoe around the issue, and won't let him wriggle out of it. She makes him face his problems, and is determined to help him.
Matthew's story is heartbreaking. Although Amy has her problems, it's something she's come to live with and accept, and is generally quite upbeat about her situation. Matthew, on the other hand, struggles all the time. It leads to him being quite introverted and quiet. It's so bad he has trouble reading, simply because he's worried he's missed a word. If he's missed a word, he might have misinterpreted the whole thing. So he has to go back and re-read to be sure. Over and over. That's just one example of how difficult his mental illness makes life for him. But with Amy's help, he is determined to overcome it. The following quote is taken from when Amy confronts him about his OCD.
'How long had he not wanted to admit this? He'd tried so hard to keep his private agony a secret that he hadn't realized how much it showed. Now that he thought about the looks people gave him walking down the hall, in class, even on the bus where he hardly knew anyone, it was like he'd become the contagion of which he was forever trying to rid himself.This quote really struck me, not only for how poignant it is, but for how it made me think about myself. Do I do this? I notice, sure, but how do I react when I notice? How am I supposed to react? Do I look away? I don't judge people for their problems, but I worry about how my reactions might be perceived. I think I look away mostly, my intention being to not seem like I'm staring, but do I look like I'm treating them as invisible, ignorning them? I don't know what's the best way to react. When actually interacting with people with any kind of disability or mental health problem, I don't treat them any differently, but it's the moments where you're in their presence and not interacting - say on a bus, for example - that I worry about what the right way to behave is.
It wasn't a secret at all. Everyone knew.' (p90)
Amy and Matthew together, they are just something to behold. Their frendship is one of the strongest I've ever read, completely accepting, not making excuses for the other when they behave badly, but also trying to help each other. The romance itself is slow to bloom, because both are worried about what the other would think, but so incredibly sweet!
Amy & Matthew is such a beautiful, moving, and thought-provoking novel! I fell in love with both Amy and Matthew, separately as well as together, and I didn't want it to end! An amazing story of friendship, acceptance, and, of course, love.
Thank you to Pan Macmillan for the review copy.
Published: 27th March 2014
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Cammie McGovern's Website