Katie, Caroline and Mary. Daughter, Mother and Grandmother. Three generations of women all grappling with their own problems find their lives are more infinitely linked than they ever thought possible. I was initially surprised when I started reading this voluminous young adult novel, to find it kicking-off with the story of an old lady with dementia (Mary) and in fact the second chapter is told in Mary’s voice as she struggles to decipher where she is and who is taking care of her. Is this what teenagers are wanting to read? Yes. It should be.
This novel deals eloquently with loss in its many forms. Mary has lost her loving husband and her understanding of time and history is slipping through her fingers. Caroline has lost her own husband to a younger woman, and the ghosts of her Mother's taboo pregnancy haunt her. Trying to piece together the fragments in between is Katie; all while juggling the stress of exams under Caroline’s strict gaze, looking after Mary and also her little brother who has special needs. Not to mention she has just kissed her best friend, Esme, and as a result no longer has any friends at school.
We come to see how fragile the relationships between several generations are. Everyone who supports needs to be supported in some way themselves and this book captures that beautifully. The author skilfully navigates the murky waters of Mary’s mind, the fear in Caroline and the blossoming curiosity, sexuality and ‘fire’ in young Katie as she discovers who she is and more importantly, who she wants to be.
We clearly see the burdens felt by those who are ageing and relying on their families; the tired parent who is struggling under the weight of emotional stresses whilst trying to do their very best for their children; and the child whose world is only beginning to extend beyond that of their own four walls, social bubble and school, in turn struggling to support their parent.
The characters are vivid and alive in this story: Mary’s passion for life and having a bit of fun; Caroline’s drained emotional state, raw at the sudden appearance of her estranged mother; and the tangible electricity between Katie and her new acquaintance Simona, all keep the pages turning at a brisk pace.
Katie gently navigates her way through the lack of understanding and memory of what happened between Caroline and Mary all those years ago, by encouraging Mary to look into her past, finally getting them to sit face-to-face and hash it out in the final pages. As for Katie, she finds both resolution and new beginnings.
Published by David Fickling Books