"Hugging the Rock" is about a girl called Rachel and how her relationship with her father, who has always been emotionally distant, develops after her mother, who has bipolar disorder, leaves them. Rachel has never been sure how how her dad feels about her, but her mother tells her, before she goes, that he is a rock, the good kind, that you can count on, so she decides to give him a chance and let him explain why her mother went.
The story is told through poetry, from Rachel's point of view. I was drawn into Rachel's mind very quickly, and because the poems are short and easy to understand I finished reading "Hugging the Rock" within a couple of hours. It is emotionally powerful, but I was ultimately disappointed by it and would not recommend it.
Firstly, the poems don't stand on their own. They only work as a series, telling the story. You couldn't read just one and get anything out of it. They are very simple, which makes them accessible to children, but they lack the layers of meaning that make up good poetry. It doesn't actually say that it is poetry on the blurb, and I would probably have never taken it home if I had stopped to read some of the writing.
Secondly, Rachel's age is ambiguous. I could not work out from the narrative style how old she was meant to be. Often she seems about 14-16 year old, because she can understand adults pretty well, but she lacks the tempestuous personality of the typical teenager, and she goes along with what the adults around her want without putting up a fight, which seemed unlikely. There is also nothing else really going on in Rachel's life during this time period, and older teenagers are usually really busy, even if their activities are not all productive.
Thirdly, and most importantly - this qualifies as a spoiler, so if you think you would like to read this book and would prefer to keep the mysteries mysteries, skip the next paragraph - I was not comfortable with Rachel's dad's explanations.
He persuaded Rachel's mother to marry him and have their daughter, when she never wanted to be a mother or a wife. He says he loved her, and he loved the unborn child - yet he made her, a mentally unstable woman, give up her own dreams and take on a role she never wanted, something that would inevitably make her condition worse. Rachel's Dad also claims that the reason he didn't try to have a close relationship with Rachel was because her mum came between them and didn't like it. This makes no sense at all - considering he wanted Rachel so much he chose her life, in a way, over his wife's. What was he doing for the last however-many years, biding his time until Rachel's mum ran away and he could finally develop a real relationship with his daughter? Rachel's dad is responsible for his daughter's turbulent childhood because of the decisions he made. It's not all down to the mother or her bipolar disorder. I wanted Rachel to feel this and deal with it. Instead she just thanks him for making her mother have her! I can understand her being grateful for being born, but her emotions would really be more complex than that, especially if she is a teenager. She just accepts everything he says. This story didn't ring true.
I think this book is very much 'issue-based', and it lacks broad appeal. I found Rachel's Dad's explanations very problematic, as I explained above, but children may enjoy it, and I was emotionally hooked into the story until the end.