Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The Things We Keep


Author: Sally Hepworth
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: January 19, 2016
First Line: "Fifteen months ago ... No one trust anything I say."

Book Description from GoodReadsAnna Forster, in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease at only thirty-eight years old, knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to Rosalind House, an assisted living facility. She also knows there's just one another resident her age, Luke. What she does not expect is the love that blossoms between her and Luke even as she resists her new life at Rosalind House. As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to what she knows, including her relationship with Luke.

When Eve Bennett is suddenly thrust into the role of single mother she finds herself putting her culinary training to use at Rosalind house. When she meets Anna and Luke she is moved by the bond the pair has forged. But when a tragic incident leads Anna's and Luke's families to separate them, Eve finds herself questioning what she is willing to risk to help them.


My Review: Alzheimer's is a disease that has greatly affected my family.  My Nana suffered from it for many years before her death more than ten years ago, at the age of 90, and her loss still greatly affects me today.  I hate Alzheimer's.  It's cruel because it slowly and painfully takes away your loved ones long before their bodies give out.  

In her latest book, The Things We Keep, author Sally Hepworth brings her readers into the world of those suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia.  She includes story lines about people with the disease, their loved ones and those caring for them.  This is also a book about people struggling in their lives.  From Anna and Luke, two young people who are slowly losing themselves to a tragic disease, to seven year old Clementine and her mother Eve who have to pick up the pieces of their lives that were thrown off course by someone else's bad decision.  Also included are the other residents of the residential home.  All of these people have issues that they have to deal with that are out of their control.

This was a compelling read that I read in a little over one day.  Even though it deals with some heavy topics it was an easy read.  The writing was good, there was some romance that fit the story well and the characters felt believable and quite varied.  

I enjoyed the fact that the story was told using multiple voices - Eve, Anna and even wee Clementine, whose innocence and joy were a wonderful balance considering some of the topics in the book.  But, while the story line at times was touching it wasn't quite Kleenex worthy for me. 

I praise Hepworth for giving her readers a realistic and honest look into life with Alzheimer's - from the patient's view as well as the view from caregivers and family.  Getting a look at Anna's life through her own eyes gave me a better understanding of my Nana's life with Alzheimer's and how she could have viewed the world and her failing memory.  Seeing how Anna was aware of, afraid of and sad about her own decline was touching.  And being able to read about how much the caregivers loved and cared for their patients was also a nice addition as well.

Hepworth brings these issues to the table with sensitivity and informs her readers about the effects of the disease without it ever having a 'teachy' feel.  For example, I liked how the book dealt with the rights of those with dementia. Just because someone has Alzheimer's and will forget everyday moments doesn't mean that they can't love and feel love at some level.  But how do we protect them while still maintaining their liberties?  Hepworth shows what Anna and Luke's loved ones go through as they try to protect Anna and Luke and struggle to come to terms with slowly losing them.

The Things We Keep also showcases the type and extent of care Alzheimer patients require.  I especially liked how, in one scene, a nurse dealt with Anna's confusion/upset and essentially went along with what Anna believed.  She didn't try to correct Anna just to prove that she was right.  I remember going along with my Nana's thoughts that we were in the 1940's or that I was my mother.  That was her reality.  She was happy.  Why try to correct her?  I loved that the author brought that out in the story.

My only complaint is how the story is told.  Anna's story is told in reverse order (starting about 14 months back) while Eve's story begins in current day.  Their stories intertwine as the story progresses but it felt a little confusing at times and wasn't handled as smoothly as I would have hoped.

This was a sweet, heart-breaking and yet somehow uplifting book about love and the resilience of a person's spirit despite a devastating disease that chips away at the fabric of a person's identity and self.  It's about leaving the preconceived notions we have of people at the door and getting to know people for who they really are on the inside.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Sally Hepworth, St Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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