Aisha’s Bushby’s latest middle grade novel A FLASH OF FIREFLIES more than lives up to the opener of Once Upon A Time with its fairy tale baddies and impossible quests. But with the timely theme of mental health woven seamlessly into the story, it manages to be both comfortingly familiar and wholly original at the same time.
We join 12-yr-old Hazel as she journeys from Kuwait to England, ahead of her parents, to stay with a great aunt in her gingerbread-like house. Adjusting to this new life triggers Hazel’s old anxieties; her real life blurs with a fantasy world where three fireflies drag her to their forest, threatening to make her worst fears come true unless she fulfils their increasingly challenging tasks and quests.
Soon, the creatures are occupying her every waking moment, and we
begin to understand Hazel is suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Using the fireflies to illustrate the intrusive nature of OCD, Bushby leaves ample space for interpretation, allowing the child reader to choose a comfortable depth at which to approach the story, taking from it what they are ready for.
Interestingly, it is delving deep into the world of fairy tales at summer school, and exploring their tropes and patterns from new angles, that Hazel begins to change her narrative. Finding the courage to share her own story with a budding new friend, and her great aunt, is an important step to challenging the fireflies’ hold on her emotions and fears.
The layers of this novel make it a valuable addition to any classroom. It is a great introduction to creative writing and the power of story and fairy tales, and a brilliant springboard to discussing OCD and mental health issues.
The shadowy silhouettes and play of light and darkness on Olivia Adam’s beautiful cover illustration invite the reader to take a closer look.