I haven’t written a blog post in quite some time, but what better way to get back into it then with a brand new book review for Cathy Glass’s newest release Cruel to be Kind.

For anyone that has read my blog before, some of you may already know that I am a huge fan of Cathy’s books so was absolutely thrilled when Jasmine from HarperCollins Publishers got in touch again and asked if I would be interested in reviewing Cathy’s latest instalment.

I started reading the book two days ago and finished this yesterday evening, as usual, devouring this within a few hours. Despite the serious nature of the books, all of Cathy’s publications are light and easy to read and are suitable for a range of audiences; I have been reading Cathy’s books for over ten years now and my mum is also a big fan.

Cathy has fostered over 150 children for more than 25 years but no two books will be the same as Cathy’s books each feature an experience with one of the children she has fostered. I read in one of Glass’s interviews, when asked how she chooses which children to write about, that she would try and write about a child that is representative of a ‘group’. I.e. in one of her books, a child was smuggled into the country illegally, whereas another book covers the experiences of a pregnant teenager, and another, a child with learning difficulties.

Cruel to be Kind is the story of six year old Max: a bright, intuitive and gentle child who has come into care because his Mum is recovering from an operation in hospital and his sisters struggled to provide proficient care for him. One of the biggest struggles that Cathy faces with Max is his weight. Grossly obese, Max is double the size of the average child of his age and has to wear clothes appropriate for 12-13 year olds.

I wondered when there was going to be a story with obesity presenting as one of the key issues; some of Cathy’s books have addressed children being overweight and of course, nutrition and a balanced diet is mentioned in all of her books, but I think child obesity is a worry in children who come into the fostering system, and I am not surprised that at least one of the children Cathy has fostered was morbidly obese.

My parents used to foster when I was a teenager and into my twenties and I found that the children that came to us often came from backgrounds with poor nutrition. They could be skinny and over-eat at mealtimes, due to a lack of trust of when the next meal would be available; or they would be very hyperactive from a diet of sweets and high-sugar foods; overweight because of a poor diet at home and not the healthy size they should be due to a lack of exercise and long periods of time sitting immobile in front of the TV.

This is a sensitive subject and we all have to be so careful about using language that is “politically correct”,  so  some may disagree with me, but I do believe quite strongly that child-obesity is a form of child abuse, even if this may have occurred unintentionally through a loving act – i.e.  constantly giving a child sweets for good behaviour for instance. So, when I first starting reading this, I was appalled that any parent could let a child become so unhealthy, even though Max was loved by his family, I thought it was horrendous and was relieved that he had come into care. Sad, but sometimes I think this is best for some children until caregivers are able to provide the necessary care to meet the child’s needs.

Max’s mother and sisters were also badly overweight and it was so easy to wonder how they could repeat their mistakes with a young child, but as the book progresses, we learn the reason for overeating is a lot more sinister than we originally think and of the knock-on effects this can have on a family.

I think another reason why I loved this book is because we got to see a lot more of Max’s background, and it was great to see how Cathy’s relationship developed with the family as well as Max. Often the only information we are given about the family is what we learn from social services and the minimal interactions we read about at contact,  so it was interesting to understand how the story behind Max went a lot deeper than a little boy who was overweight and nutritionally neglected.

Cruel to be Kind is a very heartfelt read with a heartfelt ending that (as usual) had me shedding tears by the time I read the last page. The ending was not what I had anticipated with several twists and turns, eagerly reminding us that life doesn’t always turn out as we expect.

I commend Cathy Glass and her family for all the work they have done with so many children, and for the amazing books she produces. I hope Cathy continues to produce books about her experiences with the children she looks after; you can have 100 similar cases but really no experience of a child would ever be the same, and they are always such an eye opener and truly inspirational.

For news and updates, take a look at Cathy’s website: http://cathyglass.co.uk/ and check out some of Cathy’s other previous books.

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