How not to Disappear by Clare Furniss

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How not to Disappear by Clare Furniss

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Lovely story of a young girl who is trying to decide what to do about her pregnancy, and an old lady in the early stages of dementia who is fighting to keep her memories. Lots to like here and nothing at all to dislike. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: January 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1471120309

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Longlisted for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal

Hattie is having rather a miserable summer. Both her best friends, Reuben and Nat, are away, living it up in the south of France and Edinburgh respectively. Hattie, meanwhile, is stuck at home babysitting her younger siblings and working at a burger joint. It's hardly glamorous and it's very dispiriting to be the one waiting at home for the odd text or email from friends who are having the times of their lives. Ho hum.

And then two things happen. Hattie discovers she is pregnant - by Reuben, who is her friend not her boyfriend, and notoriously unreliable. And she receives a phone call from someone called Peggy, who explains that she has a long-lost aunt named Gloria, who isn't very well but would like to meet her. In denial about her pregnancy, Hattie leaps on the idea of this new relative as a kind of distraction activity. She needs to meet this old lady who may need her help and that will handily put off the looming - and terrifying - decision she's going to have to make.

How not to Disappear is all about facing up to things. Gloria has to face up to her past and to the inevitability of dementia taking away not only her memories but her identity, too. And Hattie must face up to the truth about her relationship with Reuben, her pregnancy, and that the prospect of going through with it also goes hand in hand with a changing identity for her. But if she doesn't, it might be a source of regret for the rest of her life.

The novel moves between the present day and the 1950s of Gloria's youth. The transitions are seamless and the flashbacks serve to blunt Gloria's present day idiosyncracies. Because Gloria can be pretty obnoxious and rude. And is often drunk. And it's not all down to dementia. But right from the outset, our sympathies lie with both these central characters and we forgive them their faults. We know that Gloria's past is a sad place but it will take us to the end of the book to find out exactly why and we forgive her peccadilloes along the way. We know Hattie has a decision to make but it will take us to the end of the book to find out what it is and we forgive her prevarications along the way. I loved both these women, young and old.

I enjoyed the honesty of it and the way in which sadness and joy are presented as two sides of the same coin. I enjoyed the acknowledgement that love doesn't always conquer all. I had a deep appreciation for the sympathetic presentation of dementia - we need more of that in our ageing society. But mostly I enjoyed the growing relationship between two women, one looking back over a life and one looking towards a life yet to come.

Remember The Year of the Rat? It was great, wasn't it? This is Furniss's second novel, so she has a lot to live up to. And live up, she does. I loved this story and was thoroughly absorbed from start to finish. I also shed a tear or two. Or even three or four. It's lovely.

You might also want to look at Unbecoming by Jenny Downham , which also deals with a long-lost relative with dementia and a family crisis. It's lovely, too, as it gradually unravels the secrets of the past and problems of the present.

Booklists.jpg How not to Disappear by Clare Furniss is in the Top Ten Teens Books of 2016.

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