Review: Brilliant

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by Roddy Doyle

My Rating:

Note: Brilliant will be released in the U.S. on Tuesday, September 8th by ABRAMS Kids. A link to preorder is included at the bottom of this review.

After visiting Dublin last year, I absolutely fell in love with the culture, music, and whole country of Ireland. I was very excited to pick up this middle grade book from Roddy Doyle, an accomplished Irish author. Brilliant takes place in Dublin, with the entire story taking place in the 24 hours leading up to the annual Saint Patrick’s Day parade. In addition to having plenty of references to the Irish way of life, Brilliant is a fantastic fantasy-inspired take on how we can work to help those around us overcome depression.

Brilliant begins with the story of Gloria and Raymond, two children whose lifestyle changes when their Uncle Ben moves in. Uncle Ben doesn’t have the money to pay for his mortgage, and has fallen into a deep depression. Although there is still a lot of talking and chatting and laughing in their house, Gloria and Raymond notice a lot more mumbling – something they think adults do so that children won’t hear things that are serious and sad. When eavesdropping on the mumbling one night, they hear their grandmother say that the Black Dog of Depression is on Dublin’s back, and that it’s stolen Dublin’s funny bone. Raymond and Gloria head off to destroy the Black Dog of Depression, beginning a night-long journey across Dublin. Along the way, they meet other children whose families are suffering from depression, as well as talking animals that give them advice on their journey. The children of Dublin come together to rid Dublin of depression, learning some lessons about happiness and sadness along the way.

One thing I loved about Brilliant was the way Doyle was able to capture kids’ thoughts on paper. Gloria and Raymond were well-developed characters with their own fears, strengths, and personalities. Even though the narrator was telling the story in 3rd person, the concept of viewing the world as a child does was present throughout the story. The way in which the narrator discussed adults’ behavior and actions reminds adult readers that children know more than we think! The book was very honest about how children can be aware of things like depression and money troubles, and instead of it being kept a secret from them, knowledge can rid children of their fears. This concept was most present in the way the book approached issues of mental health. The book was honest about how depression is something that can’t be overcome immediately, and instead requires millions of small steps along the way. It’s not often that a children’s book confronts issues of mental health in such a powerful way, and Brilliant does it very well.

Another powerful aspect of Brilliant is the way it approaches language, and recognizes the complexities of how the words we use can affect us and others. The world “brilliant” becomes a rallying cry for the children because of its use in Irish culture, which is explained beautifully in the book. Meanwhile, the word “useless” is a weapon used by the Black Dog of Depression to make the children feel like nothing. Investigating the language used in this book can be a great way to incorporate Brilliant into a classroom curriculum.

Brilliant is a brilliant read, and it’s a great fit for middle grade readers, especially those that appreciate fantasy elements and relatable characters.

Classroom Connections

  • In Brilliant, words are both the heroes and villains of the story. The word “brilliant” is used to empower and create happiness and joy, while the world “useless” attacks people and tears them down. These “superwords” have the ability to affect characters when used in writing. Using vocabulary words from your classroom, ask students: if [example word] were a superword, would it be a hero or a villain? What are the word’s superpowers? For example, the word “bewildered” has the superpower to make a character perplexed and confused. The word “knowledgable” has the ability to give characters insight and awareness.

Book Information
Title: Brilliant
Author: Roddy Doyle
Illustrator: Emily Hughes
Publisher: ABRAMS Kids
Release Date: September 8th, 2015
Price: US $16.95
Source: NetGalley – Advanced Review Copy

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Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this text from ABRAMS Kids in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own!


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