Scottish Families Book Group Book Review: ‘A Terrible Kindness’ by Jo Browning Wroe

By Lena McMillan, Family Support Development Officer – Forth Valley

‘A Terrible Kindness’ by Jo Browning Wroe

A Terrible Kindness: The Bestselling Richard and Judy Book Club Pick: Browning Wroe, Jo: 9780571368297: Books

February’s book choice for our group was ‘A Terrible Kindness’ by Jo Browning Wroe.

The book starts in 1966, at the time of the Aberfan disaster, when a landslide engulfed a primary school and houses in the village, killing 116 children and 28 adults. Nineteen-year-old William, the main character in this story, has just qualified as an embalmer and feels compelled to go to Wales and help. What he experiences there stays with him, having an impact on his life and relationships and connecting him to losses throughout his own life. 

What seemingly starts as a book about Aberfan quickly becomes a book about William’s life and his relationships, covering the themes of family, friends, sexuality, guilt, forgiveness, kindness, grief, and PTSD. 

This was one of our most highly rated reads, with our group scoring it at 8.9 out of 10. 

Everyone found it an easy read, despite lots of its subject matter, agreeing that the topics were covered sensitively and respectfully. The settings were well described and there were lots of strong characters in the book who were mostly liked, with the one exception being William’s mum and the choices she made during his childhood: 

“My job in life, William, is to love you like no on earth, and I have to say, I think I’m doing a pretty good job…”

Everyone agreed that she was not doing a good job at all and we discussed how her emotions, fears and judgements made her a very selfish mum at times. 

We explored what it must be like to have conflicting pressure from a parent regarding career choices and spoke about William’s friendship with Martin, one of his fellow choir boys at Cambridge. We also discussed the role of the Midnight Choir later on in William’s life – the powerful impact of what happens to Colin, a member of the choir, and how William responds to this incident.  We also spoke about how William seems to feel more at ease with dead bodies than living people and discussed his relationship with Gloria and the importance of their visit together to Aberfan, years after the disaster. This visit marks a turning point in their relationship and points to a more hopeful future, which is where the story ends. 

Some comments from our group: 

  • ‘…it’s a strange topic, I wasn’t very keen at first but I grew into it.’
  • ‘…handled the tragedy beautifully.”
  • ‘…there was a real sense of self throughout this book – both in being true to yourself and what you want and also how bodies should look like themselves…’
  • ‘ creates powerful images, like the child’s hand with the painted fingernails showing at her coffin…’

How to join the book group:

The Scottish Families Book Group is for anyone who is currently being supported by one of our services in Scotland.

For more information or to join us, please contact Lena from our team

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