‘I had lost my compass and without it any map was forfeit.’ Debi Gliori, best known for ‘lovely’ picturebooks for younger readers, reminds us here that illustrated texts are not just for kids. The heroine of Night Shift is deeply depressed, through the condition is never named as such. Instead, a combination of pencil drawings and slivers of text hint at it: ‘I felt tired. / All day long’ the narrator recounts.
In a novel-length work this would go unnoticed; in a picturebook text we know to pay attention. Gliori’s heroine quickly reveals herself to be more than just a bit sad; she is ‘diminished’. And then one night she looks at herself in the mirror – a familiar trope for many a fictional character, to examine one’s reflection and be inspired by psychological insight – and realises ‘I didn’t know who I was any more. I got up, looked in the mirror, and saw that I was ill.’
Gliori’s beautiful illustrations are often the focus of reviews but let us take a moment to acknowledge the precision of her prose here, and its capacity to resonate. This is a writer who understands chronic mental illness, not one who has leaped on a bandwagon.
Her book is a beautiful account of seeking out hope amidst the darkness, without getting saccharine – I think everyone should read it.