Gut Feelings by C. G. Moore
Genre: Young Adult
Publishing Info: January 2021 by UCLan Publishing
Star Rating: 5/5
Back Cover Summary:
At school, I learned that words,
More than weapons,
Could destroy bodies,
Could break hearts
More than fists or fury.
This is the story of Chris, what happened to him at age eleven and how that would change the rest of his life. A life-affirming and powerful coming of age verse novel that shines a light on chronic illness, who we are and how we live.
Gut Feelings is an own voices novel in verse based on the author’s own experiences of living with Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). FAP is an inherited disorder characterised by the rapid growth of small, pre-cancerous polyps in the large intestines.
I found reading this novel incredibly moving and cathartic as I recognised some of my own experiences of chronic illness reflected in the pages. Similarly to the narrator of the novel, Chris, I was diagnosed as chronically ill at a young age, when I was ten years old. There are so many parts of this book I could quote, but I chose just a few to include in this review that really resonated with me.
“This room is no place For a child That wants to run and swim, Bike his way To the top of the hill. I listen and obey As curtains close Around me – Around my future.”
While the condition I have – Crohn’s disease – is a different condition to FAP, there is some overlap in symptoms and treatments as both affect the intestines. I could relate to the blood tests, the colonoscopies, the hospital visits, the surgery, the anxiety around having to rush to the toilet, of praying to make it through an exam, and issues of body image and scars. I could relate to the confusion and the fear of being faced with a diagnosis at such a young age.
“It could be a funeral home, This hospital, From the outside – All drab colours and no imagination. We pass through automatic doors, Greeted by cartoon knock-offs Stencilled across damaged, Death-infused walls. Dog-eared games and dishevelled toys Piled up high in a cardboard box.”
This book spans a long period of time, from diagnoses aged 11 through to university. The part which I found most moving was when Chris was first diagnosed and navigating this new reality through the eyes of a child. There were always toys in the children’s department and cartoons on the walls when I went for hospital appointments. The brightness of it felt like a horrible contrast to the place we were actually in. I never played with any of those toys, always just sat quietly in an uncomfortable waiting room chair, partly because I was shy, but also because in some ways it felt like those brightly coloured toys were mocking me, and they haunt me still. A lot of my own memories are quite blurred, but reading Chris’s story was like walking through those memories again. I was quite genuinely brought to tears.
“You can paint these walls In rainbow colours bright and bold, Plaster the walls With princes and princesses But we all know There is no gold Waiting at the end.”
The depictions of the hospital visits were so visceral, I was taken back to my own experiences in hospital. It was both relieving to see my experiences depicted on the page, but also pulled me back to some traumatic memories. Reading this book was an emotional experience which, while at times painful, was also freeing.
While I could relate to a lot of Chris’s experiences, I also took away some new insight. Chris has a stoma and ileostomy bag for part of the story. I nearly had to have one of these following my own surgery when I was 13, but in the end, it wasn’t necessary for me. While I’m aware of ileostomy bags and have seen them discussed on Crohn’s forums, seeing what it’s actually like to have one through the eyes of the narrator gave me a deeper insight into it. Gut Feelings also explores how Chris’s illness impacts his experiences and relationships as a gay man, which is not something I had really been aware of before.
“I’m nervous. It’s a standard procedure To reverse the ileostomy but Clinical smells, Beeping monitors, Blue scrubs, Bring back memories I want to forget.”
Telling this story through verse was an excellent decision as the poetic form really lent itself to the shattering experiences portrayed in the novel. C. G. Moore utilises the structure of the verse to further increase the impact of the words, and the brilliant illustrations by Becky Chilcott added another layer, enhancing the words and immersing me in the story.
“Keeping my eyes open During lectures: A momentous effort. Standing on the bus: Everything spins. Twelve-hour sleeps: Still exhausted.”
Gut Feelings is a raw, powerful and emotive depiction of chronic illness that I felt a deep connection to. Reading this book emphasised to me how little representation there is of chronic illness in fiction and media. I hope chronically ill readers will feel a kinship to this book as I did. And I hope those who haven’t had these experiences will learn something about chronic illness when they read this book – not just the facts, but the feelings and the emotions, the ups and the downs, and the pain and the hope that comes with living with chronic conditions.