This book is on the Hounslow Teen Read long list for 2017.
Hattie Lockwood is 17 and has just discovered that she is pregnant with her best friends baby. Her best friend Reuben is a bit of a rich kid screw up and after a drunken night together which meant more to her then it did to him, he has buggered off to France to spend some time with his dad. Hattie lives with her mum, her stepdad Carl and her twin brother and sister Alice and Ollie. I have to say that Alice is by far the best character in this book and her emails to Hattie are hilarious!
Anyway, Hattie is off school for the summer and feels abandoned. Not just by Reuben but by her other best friend Kat who has gone off with her slightly crazy girlfriend Zoe to Edinburgh. She works in a place called the Happy Diner (Which sounds anything but…) and is babysitting Alice and Ollie while her mum and Carl go to work and try and plan their wedding. Hattie’s dad, Dominic was a war correspondent and was killed in a roadside bomb attack when she was young. She doesn’t really remember too much about him but remembers that he was away a lot. Hattie is in denial about the pregnancy and is trying to work out what to do when she receives a phone call from an old lady called Peggy about her great aunt Gloria, who Hattie has no knowledge of. Peggy explains that Gloria is her father’s aunt and that she isn’t very well and would probably appreciate a visit from someone in the family; Hattie is a bit bored and lonely and so goes along to meet her. When she pitches up she discovers an old lady living in isolated squalor who drinks a heck of a lot of gin and loves a violet cream (whatever that is – a chocolate maybe?) The first meeting doesn’t go well but eventually they work it all out and decide to go on a road trip so that Gloria can see some old places before she forgets them. Gloria has the first signs of dementia and is terrified that she will lose her memories before she has a chance to share them – if she tells them to someone then they will still exist.
Hattie, trying to delay the inevitable decides to take Gloria on this last hurrah, Thelma and Louise style, and they both discover a lot of things on the way. I really liked the flashbacks in this book – I read another review that said it was difficult to distinguish who the narrator was but I disagree. Gloria starts off by describing the current scene before trawling back though her memories, which I thought was a nice touch The way in which the author deals with dementia and how terrifying it must be is really poignant. Gloria is a fiercely independent lady and has no one (apart from her neighbours) to support her. The idea that we live on in other peoples memories of us is just a lovely thought. I cannot imagine how I would deal with it if it happened to me but I liked the idea of doing crazy things before I forget what its all about. I loved the character of Gloria, she was such a strong, inspirational woman who has lived through some terrible times; as she says ‘who are we without our memories?’ and, good and bad, they make us the person we are. To lose that identity must be awful.
This book is beautifully written, explores the relationship between the young and old and reminds us that every old person was a young person once; a young person full of life and love and excited about their future. It’s how we deal with that future that makes up our character and I loved the way that the author connected the two women together, not just by family but by experience.
I haven’t read any other novels by Clare Furniss but will give Year of the Rat a go; I hope this book makes the shortlist because it is brilliant.