Book review: Keep You Safe by Melissa Hill
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?
That is the vexed question posed by popular Irish author Melissa Hill in a gripping and thought-provoking new novel which explores every mother’s worst fear… and will have readers gripped from first page to last.
The controversy over the safety of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination in the late 1990s was one of the medical world’s most contentious and damaging episodes and Hill casts her forensic eye over the fall-out in this engrossing and emotion-packed tale of two mothers caught up in a heartbreaking web of recrimination and blame.
Immaculately researched and cleverly imagined, Keep You Safe is brimming with drama and powerful issues recognisable to every parent, and is destined to become a favourite with book clubs across the land as two very different families lock horns over who is to blame when a child falls seriously ill.
Every mother faces impossible choices and for some, vaccination is one of the hardest. Widowed two years ago when her husband died suddenly, hospital nurse Kate O’Hara has been having a tough time but when it came to vaccinating her daughter Rosie, there was no decision to make even though she knows only too well the benefits of the MMR jab.
Five-year-old Rosie is one of a small percentage of children who can’t be vaccinated against any diseases because she has a rare and severe allergy to live vaccines. All Kate can do is hope that ‘herd immunity’ will keep her child safe and stay constantly alert for any infectious diseases in their small, tight-knit community near Dublin.
For Madeleine Cooper, meanwhile, vaccinating her two young children was a leap of faith she wasn’t prepared to take. The successful and influential online ‘mummy blogger’ and her husband Tom took the difficult decision not to immunise their children because they could not overcome their fears that the MMR vaccine might cause autism.
All Madeleine can do now is pray that it was the right decision. But when she sends five-year-old Clara to school one morning despite the child showing symptoms of illness, she is horrified to learn that not only has Clara got measles but she has passed it on to another child in the class… Rosie O’Hara.
‘This was a scenario that Madeleine and Tom hadn’t run odds on’ and before long, Madeleine is facing the flak for a decision that has led to children getting sick. And when Rosie’s illness becomes critical, the need to blame someone becomes more bitter, and more personal, than Madeleine could ever have imagined…
Hill leaves no stone unturned in her exploration of the two sides of the emotive and divisive MMR debate in a story that tackles issues like responsibility, accountability, blame and the dilemma faced by parents who are at the sharp end of deciding what is best for their child.
In true masterful storytelling style, Hill uses a meticulously drawn cast of characters caught up in the maelstrom of a measles outbreak to examine medical and legal issues while reminding us in no uncertain terms of the human cost of this potentially lethal disease.
Guilt, love, family life and the overwhelming instinct of parents to protect their children all come under the microscope as Kate and Madeleine are drawn into battle as a vicious whispering campaign engulfs the small town.
Addictive, moving and original, Keep You Safe focuses a fascinating spotlight on one of the most divisive medical controversies of the last 20 years.
(HQ, hardback, £12.99)