brother do you love me by Manni Coe and Reuben Coe
Published by Little Toller
Available from Little Toller Website and All Good Bookshops
What They Say
Reuben, aged 38, was living in a home for adults with learning disabilities. He hadn’t established an independent life in the care system and was still struggling to accept that he had Down’s syndrome. Depressed and in a fog of anti-depressants, he hadn’t spoken for over a year. The only way he expressed himself was by writing poems or drawing felt-tip scenes from his favourite West End musicals and Hollywood films. Increasingly isolated, cut off from everyone and everything he loved, Reuben sent a text message: ‘brother. do. you. love. me.’ When Manni received this desperate message from his youngest brother, he knew everything had to change. He immediately left his life in Spain and returned to England, moving Reuben out of the care home and into an old farm cottage in the countryside. In the stillness of winter, they began an extraordinary journey of repair, rediscovering the depths of their brotherhood, one gradual step at a time. Combining Manni’s tender words with Reuben’s powerful illustrations, their story of hope and resilience questions how we care for those we love, and demands that, through troubled times, we learn how to take better care of each other.
What I Say
I have really struggled with writing a review of brother do you love me. The reason being is that I want to share endless paragraphs and pages and chapters with you, to show you how brilliant Manni’s writing is, and how perfectly Reuben’s words and illustrations show us what their relationship means to them. This is a memoir that is quite unlike any I have read, and it moved me deeply.
Manni was living in Spain as a tour guide, and his brother Reuben who has Down’s Syndrome was living in a residential home. Reuben sent Manni a text message that read ‘brother.do.you.love.me’. As soon as he read that message, Manni knew that his brother needed him, and that Reuben had to be out of that care home as soon as possible. When Reuben moved in with Manni in a cottage in the UK, Manni was shocked to see how far his brother had regressed physically and emotionally, and was desperate to get his brother back.
This is a memoir not only of the incredible bond that Manni and Reuben have, and how their love for each other transcends the frustrating limitations that the professionals tried to constrain their world with, but is also a book about the realities of caring for a family member when you know exactly what they need even if those in positions of power disagree.
Their situation is further complicated by the fact that Manni’s partner Jack is in Spain, and the rest of their family are spread throughout the world, so even though everyone is involved and supporting them, Manni is the one dealing with all the day to day decisions and being the support for Reuben on his own. What echoes throughout the book is the fact that on one hand, for Manni, having your brother who is also your best friend, living with you is the best thing, but at the same time caring for Reuben and trying to help him regain his confidence as well as dealing with all the people and teams who are involved is also incredibly exhausting and isolating. I know from my own experience that you spend so much of your time convincing the people making the decisions that honestly, yes, you really do know your family member so much better than the snapshot they have gleaned from all the forms and phone calls you have been forced to repeat time and time again.
One of the elements of the book which I think will resonate with many people, is the way in which Manni describes the realities of the social care system in the U.K. It is one stretched to its limits, with those people who use it often become little more than a set of initials moving from team to team as decisions are made sometimes with the family involved, and sometimes not. One of the worst things (and I am speaking from personal experience) is how often you find someone who absolutely understands the person you are caring for, and what they need to thrive, only to have them move on or leave, and you are left either without no one, or a new person that you have to explain everything to – never quite sure if you have said the right thing, or told them enough, or too much.
As Manni tells their story, he weaves his family’s narrative in effortlessly, as we learn everything about their family, from their childhood in Leeds, to the rift that happens when Manni tells his religious family that he is gay, to their reconciliation – and always at the heart of the story is the love and determination that the family and their friends have to ensure that Reuben is happy and living the life that he wants. In doing this, Manni also subtly shows us the difference between the Reuben of those times, and all the things they did together, and the Reuben who is now a very different man. Manni perfectly articulates not only the all consuming love you feel for the person you care for, but also the ingrained hope and desire you have for them to be accepted by the world and for them to live the life they want, rather than the life that others feel they deserve.
The book is also filled with the art that Reuben has produced, which adds an intensely personal and emotional element to the book, and Reuben also talks about having Down’s Syndrome and what that means to him. We learn how he feels about the world around him, as well his own hopes and dreams for his future. I think it’s one of the most important parts of this book, that Reuben’s voice and identity are so clear and we learn so much about him and his personality, and his relationships with his family and friends.
I wanted to finish my review by saying thank you to Manni and Reuben, who helped me think about my own situation and my own relationship with my son, who has a range of special needs, and I am his full time carer.
I know am guilty of doing too much for him, for sometimes treating him like a child at times even though he is twenty two, and for thinking I know how he feels, and not really trying to make him do any more than I think he can cope with. Hearing how Manni and Reuben talk together, and Reuben talking about himself and his identity have really helped me reassess how I relate to my son, and has opened up a whole new world for us, and for that, I can’t thank them enough.
I don’t often say this, but please try and read this book however you can. #BrotherDoYouLoveMe is not only an incredible testament to the love that Manni and Reuben have for each other, but is also a book that absolutely captures the realities of caring for a family member, and how important it is to ensure that what they want and deserve is always at the front and centre of every decision that is made.
I absolutely loved it.