Teacher Eileen Murtagh stands outside a shabby home on the bleak Roundwell estate having second thoughts about tutoring one last pupil before returning to her native Ireland.
Molly Path is a “refusenik” – a child who refuses to go to school – and will not leave her bedroom in her very broken home. She is haunted by the absence of her father, Stan, a labourer with learning difficulties who left after hitting her alcoholic mother, Stella.
But as Eileen’s patience pays off and she lures Molly out, the teacher’s own story unfolds, and it has a common thread: a loveless mother who drove her away from her rural home.
Molly Path is Eugene O’Toole’s debut novel for young adults published by Hawkwood Books. It is a moving and inspiring story about the unique relationship formed between special issue teachers and the difficult children they help so heroically. It reveals why events in the lives of dysfunctional parents can be at the root of the challenges their children face, and underlines the importance of a stable home to education. When Molly finally emerges, she bonds with Eileen and finds parallels to her own life in the books she is given to read for her GCSE. These become a means of relating to her parents’ condition – and the circle of understanding is completed
It’s a pleasure to welcome to the blog, Eugene O’Toole, whose YA novel Molly Path is published in paperback by Hawkwood Books on 15 August. My thanks to Eugene for the guest post and I wish him every success with Molly Path. The book is available from many retailer sites – and some links are below.
School’s out for Molly Path
by Eugene O’Toole
We’ve all been there … either we were difficult teenagers ourselves, or we have one (or two!) living under our roof.
They can be hard to handle at the best of times, but our reward as parents for seemingly endless patience and forbearance is to watch them mature into productive and interesting adults.
Yet what becomes of teenagers with problems who aren’t fortunate enough to benefit from parental support—or whose parents simply can’t cope?
Such cases often require the help of specialists, a legion of professional educationalists who toil heroically behind the scenes. Knowing how to engage with troubled young adults who refuse to play ball is an expertise rarely acknowledged, but always invaluable.
Molly Path is a novel for young adults about such a case. It tells the story of a teenager who refuses to attend school, sometimes called a “refusenik”, and Eileen, the special peripatetic tutor sent to help her.
I interviewed some truly amazing special teachers as part of my research for this book, and was inspired by the work they do to help keep these young people on the straight and narrow. Molly’s case is based on a true story, about a child who refused to leave a bedroom and a teacher who had to communicate with him through the door! The teacher in my novel is also based on a real person, a great friend of mine now enjoying her well-earned retirement.
It is also true in the sense that Molly refuses to go to school for a reason—this is not random awkwardness. She believes, earnestly, that every grim detail of what has transpired in the eternally unfriendly relationship between her mother Stella and her father Stan is known by every single person at her school. Like all teenagers, Molly is self-conscious and lacks self-belief—she is simply ashamed to make an appearance. Here is an extract:
‘I’m Molly Path and I’m an empty space in a car park. Can’t do nothing. Stella says so, and she knows all about being useless.
I live in a house with a broken TV. I live in a house with a broken washing machine. I live in a house with a broken boiler. Sometimes I live in a house with broken lights. I live in a house that reeks of brandy. I live in a house with Stella but not with Stan.
Can’t spell nor do maths nor sport, can’t remember nothing, can’t make friends, don’t have no pen. Am ugly as sin and the others said I stink of piss.
Deserve everything I get, don’t I? Don’t deserve no friends. Deserve to be mocked. Never look good, do I? Never put no effort in. Why bother? Am in the wrong body?
So what’s the point of school?
Can’t teach me nothing don’t already know. About being useless. About being ugly. About cruelty, parked cars, litter. About broken houses with blocked toilets. About tanned arms that never hug me.’
As the story unfolds, we learn several key things that can be common in such cases: Molly’s problems are inherited from her parents; her unstable home explains her educational shortcomings; yet with patient, careful attention, a tutor can fulfil the age-old mantra about the teacher’s role, “in loco parentis”, that is so often ignored.
It’s a moving but ultimately heart-warming story about unlocking the potential of a child who has been neglected yet has hidden promise. Molly is poorly educated but intelligent—the name of the character is a cheeky play on words, a spoonerism of ‘polymath’.
As a bond forms between Molly and Eileen it becomes clear they share a common burden—both have had to endure a loveless mother. Indeed, Eileen learns something important from her pupil: forgiveness.
But we must ultimately sympathise with Molly’s parents, Stella and Stan, because they, too, are victims of their pasts. Indeed, such cycles of deprivation always continue—unless they are broken by a superhuman teacher like Eileen.
Gavin Eugene O’Toole is a freelance journalist, editor and writer in London. For most of his career he worked as a sub-editor on national newspapers. He has lived in Mexico, completed a Ph.D. in Latin American politics, and has written six non-fiction books about the region. He has won several writing competitions including the Listowel Writers Week short story and humorous essay competitions, and the Ovacombe competition, and has been second, a runner-up or shortlisted in others. His children’s novel Land of Waves was shortlisted at the Wells Festival of Literature in 2021. He is married with three daughters.
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