Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, The Apple Tart of Hope

Orion, ISBN 978-1-4440-0692-6

Meg’s oldest and best friend Oscar is missing. Oscar, who she talked to daily through her bedroom window for years. Oscar, who could sense when anyone was sad and was always there to help. Oscar, whose wonderful apple tarts could cure despair. Now everyone assumes he has killed himself. How could the bright, warm, popular person she knew could have become isolated and suicidal? Only she and Oscar’s brother Stevie cling to any hope that he is still alive.

The story unfolds retrospectively in alternating first-person narratives from the two main protagonists. Meg and Oscar’s great friendship started going wrong when she moved to New Zealand. They misconstrued the messages they sent to each other. Meg hated hearing about Paloma, who was living in her house, and had taken her place as the friend talking to Oscar through her window. Her emails became shorter and less personal, then tailed off altogether. Without Meg’s friendship to moor him, Oscar has become enthralled by Paloma, failing to spot her cruelty and manipulativeness. Systematically she has turned everyone else in their class against him, and stripped away any sense he had of self-worth. His disappearance brings Meg and her parents home. Despite the odds, she and Stevie refuse to give in to despair.

This is a compelling and well-written tale about important themes: depression, suicide and bullying, but also friendship, kindness and hope. It is the last three that triumph.