Today’s offering – Forgetting Foster by Aussie author Dianne Touchell – is a moving look at Alzheimer’s disease and its devastating effects on the family, told from the point of view of Foster, a seven-year-old only child. Having read Touchell’s debut novel, Creepy and Maud, a number of years back, we knew that we would be in for something special here. We received a copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Foster suddenly recognised the feeling that rolled over him and made him feel sick. It was this: Dad was going away somewhere all on his own. And Foster was already missing him.
Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad’s stories.
But then Foster’s dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.
A heartbreaking story about what it means to forget and to be forgotten.
Given that I have a special interest in books featuring characters suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, I can confidently say that this is an excellent addition to the fictional literature on the topic. Forgetting Foster is made more memorable (pardon the pun!) due to the fact that this is a title aimed at a YA target audience (although I’m not convinced this is a necessary label) and told from the point of view of a child. It reminded me most strongly of What Milo Saw by Virginia Macgregor, although far less gimmicky in tone and much the better for it.
I loved Touchell’s narrative style; she has a certain ability to evoke crystal clear imagery through writing that is almost poetic at times. It felt very similar to Glenda Millard’s style of prose, and that is high praise, given that regular readers of this blog will know that we think Glenda Millard is a genius. If you are familiar with Millard’s Kingdom of Silk series, simply extrapolate that kind of deft and unshrinking confrontation of difficult issues onto a story written for a more mature audience and you’ll have a good idea of the approach Touchell has taken in addressing the confusion, grief and overwhelming worry of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
The use of a child character to address an adult issue is usually a sure-fire way to show a well-worn issue in a new light and that is certainly the case here. Foster is sharp as a tack when it comes to the realisation that life as he knew it is slipping away, but the social nuances of the adults’ behaviour go over his head. Many of the self-defeating actions of Foster’s mother are brought into sharp focus when viewed through Foster’s lens and I found it harder to sympathise with her as the book went on, despite the fact that she is obviously under enormous stress and dealing with her own issues of grief and the emotional and mental, if not phsycial, loss of a husband at such an early stage in life. I found Foster’s aunty to be a breath of fresh air through the whole story, maintaining, as she does, an unflinching sense of optimism. This optimism is clearly feigned at times, and even though Foster’s mother doesn’t appreciate it, it worked neatly to stop the reader from being sucked into the pit of despair along with Foster’s mother.
This is another one of those “YA” books that will easily cross age borders and be appreciated as clever and touching adult fiction. I certainly never got any sense that this was specifically written for a young audience and Foster as a character only confirmed this for me. He is seven, for a start – far too young a narrator for a typical YA tale – and only a tiny part of the story is given over to his life. He doesn’t seem to have any close friends or engage in any hobbies that might be expected of a seven year old. For this reason, I suspect that Foster is best described as a gentle conduit into a world of cataclysmic change – a way to allow the reader to experience the emotions that go along with losing a family member while being shielded from the worst of it.
I did feel that I wanted something more from the book once it was finished. I’m not sure if this was because I was expecting more to be made of the comparative youth of the character suffering from Alzheimer’s disease – Foster’s father – or simply because I have read a number of books already – both fiction and nonfiction – on the topic, but I wanted a bit of a kick in the tale that I didn’t quite receive. It’s possible that because it was Foster’s dad, not his grandfather, that was quickly moving downhill, I wanted the experience of that loss to feel more significant and raw and I didn’t quite get that from Foster’s narration. This may be where the book feels closest to the YA category, as those deeper and more troubling experiences related to grieving the total loss of someone who is still alive, are left alone.
Forgetting Foster is certainly worth a read if you are looking for a contemporary novel that deals with grief, loss and confusion in an extremely accessible way – not to mention if you are looking for a cracking OZ YA title. Again, I wouldn’t be put off by the fact that this is a “YA” novel, because it reads magnificently as adult fiction. For grown-up readers looking for nonfiction reads on the same topic, allow me to suggest Green Vanilla Tea by Marie Williams (another brilliant Aussie tale).
Until next time,