Book Reviews

Book Review: When I See Blue by Lily Bailey

Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group

Genre: Children’s, Middle Grade

Release Date: 9th June 2022

Format reviewed: ARC Ebook (with thanks to Netgalley and Hachette Children’s Group)


New town, new school, but the bully is in Ben’s head …

There are 4 things you should know about Ben:
1. He’s 12 years old
2. He’s the new kid at school
3. His special number is 4
4. He has a bully in his brain

Sometimes Ben’s brain makes him count to 4 to prevent bad things happening. Sometimes it makes him tap or blink in 4s. Mostly it makes the smallest things feel impossible. And with a new school, a moody big brother, an absent dad and a mum battling her own demons, Ben feels more out of control than ever. But then he meets April, and with his new friend, Ben might finally figure out how to stand up to the bully in his brain, once and for all.

My Review

When I see Blue by Lily Bailey is a masterpiece! I know this is quite a dramatic statement to make, but it is such a wonderful example of how Middle Grade stories can delight, inspire and open up our understanding of the experiences of others, or offer reassurance, reflection and advice to those who live the experience too.

Sharing Ben’s journey as he experiences a new school, new home, new friendship, challenging home life and therapy sessions for his newly diagnosed OCD, was an emotional journey and I was cheering him on (and aching for him to speak up) on the sidelines. I imagine children will fall in love with Ben too and his rebel friend April – their budding friendship is written with genuine warmth. April is a fabulous character, a real inspiration, but with her own troubles and flaws too.

There is something for every reader to connect with – we all have brains that don’t always do right by us after all – but I can’t imagine what a book like this could mean to a child and family who are living with OCD. The way it captures the experience and follows Ben’s therapy is fantastic, while never feeling forced – it’s all about the story, and there is so much to take from this story, not least the warm, lovable characters that I think may have taken up permanent residence in my heart (it’s getting busy in there).

It is pitched perfectly for an upper middle grade audience (10-12) and is the kind of story I wish I could have read when I was a bubble of adolescent uncertainty in need of some reassurance! A window of compassion and understanding in a sometimes difficult and confusing world.

There is so much going on – not only does it shine a light on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and particularly how this manifests in children, but it also delves into the complexity of family and parental relationships, friendship, alcoholism, bullying and more.

Above all, it is a gorgeous novel, handled with sensitivity and warmth that delivers a hugely satisfying story with compassion at its heart. I encourage teachers and parents everywhere to buy, borrow and share this with the children in your life (and enjoy it yourself too!)

Thanks for Reading!

Anna xx

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