The M Word

The M Word

By Author / Illustrator

Brian Conaghan



Age range(s)



Bloomsbury Publishing PLC




Paperback / softback




Moya. The M Word. Whisper it. Conceal it. But please, never mention it ... Maggie Yates talks to her best mate Moya every day. She tells her about Maggie's mum losing her job. She tells her that Mum's taken to not opening the curtains and crying in secret. And she tells her about how she plans to cheer Mum up - find her a fella with a bit of cash to splash. Moya is with her every step of the way. You're surfing a rainbow if you think someone like that exists round here, she smiles. But I'll help. But at the back of her mind Maggie knows that Mum's crying is more than sadness. That there are no easy fixes. And that Moya's not really there. Because though she talks to her every day, Moya died months ago ... An unforgettable novel about grief and healing from Costa and Irish Book Award-winner Brian Conaghan.



The M Word is a brilliantly written book by author Brian Conaghan. It follows the life of teenager Maggie Yates who is trying to deal with the many challenges she is facing in her life - leaving school for college, her mum sliding into depression, self-harming and still talking to her best friend who has been dead for months. This may not be a traditional recipe for good read, but not to read this novel would be miss out on a most thought provoking, insightful and often humorous read and one I greatly enjoyed.

Despite the serious themes explored in the book, the story flows well, capturing the inner thoughts of a teenager expertly and provides the reader with an insight into why someone could be self harming and the effect of grief on young people as the story of what has happened to Maggie's friend, Moya, unfolds.

The way these issues and others are dealt with in the novel make it a useful tool for discussion with senior pupils in PSE/Guidance classes, especially as through the character of Maggie we get the nonchalant teenager on the surface and the emotion and pain of what she really thinks and feels inside. There is humour in the book and this also helps keep the pace of the book going and lifts it, especially Maggie's attempts to set her mum up on a blind date!

As well as a recommending this novel for 14+ and upwards, I would encourage teachers and parents to read this to gain an insight in teenagers, especially if they are touched by any of the issues covered in the book.

I really enjoyed this novel finding it a real page turner. Insightful and emotional with a fair portion of hope too. I'll leave my last words to Maggie's mum: "All you can do is look to the future. There is no other alternative to that - the future is yours."

352 pages / Reviewed by Stephen Leitch, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 14+


Characters in a Brian Conaghan novel never have it easy. 17 year old Maggie Yates is struggling to maintain a relationship with someone once pivotal to her life who has chosen to leave her. She talks to her every day, tells her everything. Her best friend. She tells her when her dinner lady mum loses her job, starts constantly crying, then gives up even getting out of bed and opening the curtains in the morning. She tells her about her winning plan to cheer her mum up by finding her a rich boyfriend. The only trouble is that her best friend can't answer her back. Moya died months ago, hounded by internet trolls, and Maggie blames herself, the failure friend. As if that wasn't enough, her mum sinks quickly into severe depression and it seems Maggie is losing her, too.

The M Word a sensitive and insightful examination of how the human mind and body react to the loss of someone once essential to existence and about how to cope with the pain and the grief. It sounds grim and, in less capable hands, this would be a bleak, hopeless and sobering read; miserylit at its finest. But this is Brian Conaghan, so The M Word is brimful of hope too and guaranteed to make the reader smile: the blackest humour balances the heartbreak and hope for the future shines through the bleakness of Maggie's situation.

Conaghan excels at creating completely authentic characters and spiky, sharp-tongued, straight-talking, streetwise, quick-witted Maggie doesn't disappoint. Like Bobby in The Weight of a Thousand Feathers, Maggie excels at witty one-liners and put downs. She's a fighter, she's angry at her situation, she's bolshy, she bites back and isn't, outwardly at first, particularly likeable, but she's also hugely vulnerable; battling her mum's serious depression, the loss of her alcoholic dad, the death of her best friend and her own self-harm.

Conaghan, as always, offers no easy fixes but with courage and resilience hope always finds a way. Maggie, driven by a fierce love for her mum and a dogged determination to make something of herself, starts art college and forms a band. Her future, by the end of the book, looks hopeful and realistic and has love at the heart of it. Another winner!

Another compelling novel dealing with depression and grief is The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton. Similarly spiky female lead characters take centre stage in Home Girl by Alex Wheatle and in Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence. The Boxer by Nikesh Shukla also looks at fitting in and finding where you belong.

Slightly younger readers should be pointed in the direction of Lost by Eve Ainsworth or A Library of Lemons by Jo Cotterill for a poignant look at grief and mental health.

352 pages / Reviewed by Eileen Armstrong, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 14+


Maggie Yates is 17 years old and has just started art college. She has worked hard at school to get there and this is the next important chapter in her life. However, this new chapter in Maggie's life is beginning to unravel. Her mum is a single parent and after she loses her job, she spirals into a cycle of depression. Maggie must watch her struggle daily. Her mum is unable to leave the house and money is scarce. They must rely on the local food bank for support. Maggie has no choice but to step up and try to take care of her.

She does speak to her best friend, Moya, every day. She confides in her and tells her everything - like best friends do - but Moya died months ago. We soon discover that Maggie is not only having to cope with her mother's depression and trying to fit in at art college, she is also trying to come to terms with the sudden and shocking death of her best friend.

The M Word is a hard-hitting and unflinchingly realistic portrayal of how depression and mental health issues can affect families. It is a novel about self-harm and dealing with loss. However, Conaghan's novel is also about how important family and friendships are. The importance of seeking help and talking to each other. It is a novel also filled with humour, hope, and finding light in the very darkest of places. Although Maggie is a complex character her uncompromising spirit shines through.

This is Conaghan at his best. He has created a gritty YA/crossover novel that has the capacity to open up discussions about mental health issues.

352 pages / Reviewed by Julie Broadbent, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 14+


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