The Best Medicine is a welcome addition to the growing body of children’s literature dealing with the topic of cancer. The book shares some similarities with Patrick Ness’s magnificent A Monster Calls, in that the protagonist is a young boy living with a single mother and dealing with a school bully, but Hamill’s approach veers away from Ness’s primal response to the subject of a potentially terminal illness, focusing instead on humour.
Confronted with his mother’s chemo- and stress-induced mood-swings, Philip Wright takes refuge in writing to his hero Harry Hill, and the climax of the book is a surprise appearance by the comedian at a Harry Hill themed fundraiser where everyone sports a bald head and dark-rimmed glasses.
Drawing on personal experience, Hamill displays a good insight into the day-to-day effect that cancer treatment has on families, from the embarrassment of having to mention the word ‘breast’ to friends and teachers, to the necessity of having to pull your weight with housework. While the tone is overall light, Hamill doesn’t shy away from the gravity of the illness, notably when Philip’s mother is hospitalised with an infection during her chemotherapy treatment. The overriding message is how very common cancer, and particularly breast cancer, is these days, and how we should be mindful of the way it affects the lives of the people around us.