Forgetting Foster: A Child’s-Eye View of Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease…

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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.

Forgetting Foster | REVISED FINAL COVER x 2 (18 April 2016)

Forgetting Foster (Dianne Touchell) Published by Allen & Unwin, 22 June 2016. RRP: 19.99

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,

Bruce

 

 

What’s In a Name Challenge: Creepy and Maud…

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Obstacle Number 4+ in the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge: Creepy and Maud by Dianne Touchell…

Taken from: the Non-Christie Listie as a late replacement

Category: Five – a book with an emotion in the title

Once again, I’m making a bit of a tenuous link for this category, but I figure if it’s possible to “feel creepy”, then creepy must be an emotion.

Creepy and Maud is told from the alternating viewpoints of Creepy (not his real name…obviously) and Maud (not her real name….less obviously); teenage neighbours who conduct most of their interactions through the use of binoculars and messages flashed through their respective windows.  The story explores how the friendship – if you can call it that – develops amidst the daily dramas of life in the teens’ less than idyllic family settings.

 

 

creepy and maud

This Book’s Point of Difference:

Well. I suppose this one differs from most YA stories in that while it focuses on the relationship between teenagers of the opposite sex, there is no reference to romance. Not even a hint of it.  It’s not really that kind of book.

Pros:

– Once again, this book has that lovely familiar feeling common to many Australian stories. Well, familiar if you are an Australian anyway.

– There’s a lot to keep you interested in the content here – intriguing relationship dynamics abound.  Creepy’s parents communicate almost solely through the medium of shouting (and on occasion, acts of irate dog), Maud resorts to speaking only in French with particular irksome people in her life and the mothers of the two teens are engaged in a titanic struggle over the etiquette involved in borrowing and loaning casserole dishes. 

– The book doesn’t pull any punches. If you like your YA fiction gritty and realist, then you’ll probably take to this one like a duck to duck-friendly wetland environments.

Cons:

– Along with the lovely sense of familiarity common to Australian stories, Creepy and Maud delivers a standard dose of that depressing sense of realism and un-sugar-coated discomfort also common to many Australian stories. There is a bit of humour to lighten the load, but for some I fear this book may come off too dreary to really enjoy.

– I’m not sure whether it was just me and my cold, stoney heart, but I didn’t really feel overly sympathetic towards the two main characters.  I’m not sure whether I was supposed to. But this was a bit of a con for me, if only for the fact that it would prevent me bothering to re-read this title.

Overall, I found this a slightly uncomfortable reading experience, although I can see why it was shortlisted for a Children’s Book Council of Australia Award for Older Readers (a high accolade indeed!).  I felt there was something missing in the connection between the characters that stopped it from really reaching the “must-buy/must-re-read” category for me.  On the other hand, Touchell’s debut is a solid read if you enjoy YA books that explore themes of unconventional friendship and the ugly repercussions for those who insist on being a square peg in a round hole (or indeed, vice versa) in certain environments.

Until next time,

Bruce