Ding Ding Ding! It’s another Top Book of 2016!
How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss is a YA road-trip novel featuring dementia, secret pregnancy and lots and lots of gin slings. We were lucky enough to receive a copy from Simon & Shuster Australia for review – thanks! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Hattie’s summer isn’t going as planned. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to “find himself” and Kat’s in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and dealing with endless drama around her mum’s wedding. Oh, and she’s also just discovered that she’s pregnant with Reuben’s baby… Then Gloria, Hattie’s great-aunt who no one previously knew even existed comes crashing into her life. Gloria’s fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery – Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are wiped from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future.
Apart from the excessive drinking that no one on the shelf (except for Shouty Doris) really goes in for, this book had everything we enjoy in a good novel: England (Whitby in particular), road trips, poor decision making, flashbacks and snarky elderly ladies. I’ll be honest with you – it was a slow-burn decision to nominate this book as a Top Book of 2016, but the ending is so sensitively written that it would be a travesty for us to leave it off the list.
The narrative moves back and forth between the present (narrated by Hattie) and the past (narrated by Gloria) and so the reader slowly discovers the events that have led Gloria to her current living conditions. It is made clear from the start that Gloria’s past was not a happy place and as Hattie finds out more about Gloria and Gwen (Hattie’s grandmother), she begins to question whether or not the road trip down unhappy-memory lane was such a good idea.
It is obvious to the reader pretty early on that Gloria must have experienced some life events that might resonate with Hattie’s current condition and so it turns out to be. The first half of the book unfolds much as one might expect it to, with Hattie wavering over what to do about her pregnancy, and Gloria wielding pointy, pointy words with a mastery that comes from a lifetime of practice.
It is the second half, or possibly final third, of this book which really sets it apart from the common herd. For a start, there are a few twists in Gloria’s tale that I didn’t see coming until they were upon me, and Hattie’s character development goes into overdrive. The final chapters, which focus on life for the two ladies post-road-trip are moving and authentic and really touched this old gargoyle’s stony heart.
The best recommendation for How Not To Disappear I can give is that it is a story that transcends its YA categorisation. Sure, the main character is a young person, with young person friends, dealing with young person problems, but the story as a whole avoids YA tropes and clichés and allows Hattie to be read as a protagonist in an adult fiction novel. If you are after a contemporary read that is funny, realistic and moving and approaches the legacy of damaged family ties with real authenticity then you could do a lot worse than picking up How Not to Disappear.
Until next time,