Writer, comedian and campaigner Jack Rooke has certainly made a name for himself in recent years, what with his hit Edinburgh shows, Good Grief and Happy Hour, and BBC 3 television series Happy Man, which have focused on grief and mental health. And now Rooke brings his experiences to the literary world with his new book, Cheer the F**k Up: How to Save Your Best Friend.
The book, which is part comedy memoir, part advice guide, focuses on grief and mental health issues. Anyone who’s ever seen one of Rooke’s shows or heard his episode of Griefcast will know that he’s more than qualified to discuss both, having lost his father to cancer when he was just fifteen, volunteered with mental health charity CALM, and struggled himself following the death of a close friend to suicide.
The book takes the audience through Rooke’s teenage years – both before and after his father’s death – and deals with his sexuality, his antics at university and success at the Edinburgh Fringe. It highlights the importance of the arts in helping him cope with his losses, and like Rooke’s Happy Hour show the book shines a light on male mental health in particular, and how more needs to be done to help men cope with mental health issues. There’s a particularly interesting chapter which highlights the role of the media in reporting on suicides, while there’s also some great detail on the essential work that charities like CALM do to support people. Dotted throughout the book are chapters full of essential tips, for example ‘How to help a loved one accept their sexuality’, ‘How to help a friend’ and ‘How not to be scared’. Their inclusion not only offers valuable advice, but they help the reader to pause and take stock of what they’ve read.
Rooke’s writing is warm and incredibly human, and it feels as though you’re talking to an old friend. There’s an affectionate look at his childhood which offers a trip down memory lane for anyone growing up in the 90s, and hilarious references to popular culture throughout. What’s particularly touching is the fondness with which he talks about his mum and his nan, the women who have helped him over the years. Given the fact that Rooke has obviously been through a lot in his life you would almost expect the book to be a sombre affair, but the beauty of Cheer the F**k Up, along with his previous work, is that it combines comedy and tragedy to great effect. The sad moments – and when they come they are devastating – are delicately handled, with handy trigger warnings at the start of chapters for anyone who may find the content difficult. But there are also moments of pure comedy gold when you’ll laugh out loud, even during Rooke’s worst moments – a bereavement counselling session that didn’t go to plan, to name just one. It’s a clever reminder that there’s no right way to grieve, and that there is time to smile, even during the darkest of times. As someone who also lost their dad at a young age this is an incredibly relatable book, but this isn’t just a book for the bereaved, although they’re sure to empathise with the endless lasagnes and excuses to get out of school classes. It’s ideal for anyone who wants to understand more about grief and loss and mental health issues, and it’s also an important reminder to take care of yourself as well as others around you.
A beautifully honest and thoughtful account, Cheer the F**k Up: How to Save Your Best Friend is an essential read. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll make you want to watch Eastenders and listen to the Spice Girls and then go to Wagamama, but more importantly it’ll make you want to reach out to your friends and family. One of the most powerful books you’ll read this year.