Book review

Mondays Are Red by Nicola Morgan (2002)

If you have ever suffered a very serious illness, you will know how much personal, physical effort it takes simply to recover. It really isn't a case of lying around in bed, having time off school. For a start, you hurt. And you most likely have a crashing, blinding headache. And you feel as weak as water. Then, as soon as you are strong enough to think, you begin to wonder why it happened to you, and what exactly did happen, and how the outcome might so very easily have been different, worse. It's rather frightening. You try to make things get back to normal as quickly as possible, even before you are really ready.

That is what happens to Luke in this story. He's been very ill with meningitis. As he slowly recovers, he begins to comprehend that things have changed. One leg is very weak, and his running career is in jeopardy. But even more preoccupying is the confusion inside his head. It is more than just shock. His senses have become jumbled, permanently. He can see music and smell colours:

Mondays are red. Sadness has an empty blue smell. And music can taste of anything from banana puree to bat's pee.

He has developed synaesthesia, though he doesn't realize it at first.

But Luke is an athlete. He is naturally competitive. And anyone who has to fight for something, as Luke has to fight to recover his strength, can find a mean, uncompromising streak deep inside themselves. There is a new voice inside Luke's head, pushing him on. Luke calls him Dreeg:

We started, everyone trying to achieve that delicate balance between setting off too fast and needing to stay within reach of the front. My leg was worse than I'd expected, weaker than earlier in the day, and my head was beginning to ache again. Very soon I was starting to fall behind, dragged back by this leaden limb that seemed to have lost its strength ...
Surely I could do better than this? But no matter how I tried, the other boys were pulling ahead and I was running in sand.
Dreeg waved a green tentacle at me from his hole, still in the octopus shape which I had made for him. 'Is that all you can do, Luke?'
'Do something useful,' I gasped. 'Don't just squat there.'
'Need me now, do you? I said you would. You still need me, you see.'
'Yes, yes, yes, all right so I need you. I can't help it if there's something wrong with my leg.'
Dreeg reformed into an almost human shape, and sat there, grinning smugly. 'On you go then, Luke, go for it. Think it, feel it, live it.'

While Luke fights to recover his strength and health, he drifts out of touch with those around him. It's not surprising, he is on something of an emotional roller coaster, and he is finding it difficult to cope. He can't tell his friend, Tom, what is happening inside his head. And what had been an armed truce with his older sister, Laura, spirals into nuclear conflict.

Only when his sister finds herself in mortal danger does he suddenly realize how much he needs his family and friends. It takes an almighty effort to refocus on reality, and use all that inner strength that he has so recently developed, to save his sister. How does he do it? You will have to read the book. I promise you, you won't put it down until everyone is safe. Everyone except Dreeg, that is ... Perhaps Luke doesn't need him any more.

I loved this book. I found Luke's emotional confusion extraordinarily intense. Earnestly recommended!

What can I read next?

This is Nicola Morgan's first novel. It is brilliant. Let's hope we don't have to wait too long for her second one.

If you enjoy Mondays Are Red, you might like to look at this compelling novel by David Klass, about the introspective life of a boy who is abused by his stepfather:

If it is the psychological analysis which attracts you, I think you might enjoy reading this one by Robert Cormier:

Or you could look at this story about a troubled young boy, by Gillian Cross:

If you really enjoy the nebulous, 'haunted' background to Mondays Are Red, you might enjoy looking at anything by David Almond but particularly, perhaps, Kit's Wilderness:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

Mondays Are Red features in these lists: