Valerie Mason-John, Serpent’s Tale
ISBN 1852428910, £8.99
STAR RATING: 4/5
This fictional account of childhood in care is based on personal
experience. It is a story of psychological survival,
writes Liz Davies.
The author describes Pauline being tossed from one placement to
another for reasons incomprehensible to her. It is a stark journey
where social workers are mere couriers and there are few adult
protectors from a world of child abuse and racism.
Pauline meets with spirit friends and animals where her feelings
find expression. The spirits enter her body when she vacates it at
her most vulnerable and frightening times.
Poignant childhood moments such as playing with conkers, buttons
and sand are interspersed with the constant experience of loss as
children come and go from the homes. Lost friends are recreated
within her spirit world.
When she is returned to an abusive mother she begs her spirit cat
“to please take my body”. Pauline’s responses to the horror lead
finally to placement in solitary confinement.
It takes courage to read Mason-John’s vivid portrayal of a child’s
perspective of “care”.
This novel is highly relevant for both child care and mental health
Liz Davies is senior lecturer in children and families
social work, London Metropolitan University