Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson
Published by: Penguin Random House Australian
Released: January 30 2017
Read: February 2 2017
Julia Lawrinson’s tight exploration of the effects of early onset Alzheimer’s is tough going. Not only because of how long it takes to diagnose Amelia’s dad, but also because of how distressing it is for him, and for the people around him. We see him give money away to strangers, embarrass Amelia at a shopping centre, and we see the grief it causes him when his licence is taken away. It’s not pretty. I read an interview with Lawrinson conducted by Joy Lawn from Boomerang Books, and it appears the author has inside knowledge about facing this terrible disease.
Alongside this, is the change occurring to Amelia’s best friend Gemma. This storyline is woven through the family drama, adding to Amelia’s anxiety, and her unsympathetic response to Gemma is not all that surprising. She knows genuine pain, and cannot relate to Gemma’s choice to cause herself pain. It’s an interesting contrast of medical conditions.
The other important thread in the story is Art. Amelia attempts to use her art to see her through the madness and changes. She learns more about her teacher, makes a new friend, but when she stands up for Poppy, she learns a lesson in caution. Poor Amelia, always trying to do the right thing.
While the themes are dark, their representation is not. Lawrinson’s touch seems light and deft on the topics, and I appreciated the tightness of structure and the word length. We don’t linger over the events of the novel, and the book is better for gaps in the narrative.
For instance, boy-next-door Will shapes up as Amelia’s love interest. But the hint of romance is never pushed or contrived. It actually concludes still up in the air. To be honest, I would have liked a little more surety that they were moving in the right direction (towards each other), but I trust that’s what the author wants us to believe, and let’s leave it at that. #donttakeawaymyhope
I find parents in YA novels problematic sometimes. Amelia’s mother drinks heavily, even after the dementia is diagnosed. It takes her most the book to be proactive, and make things better for her daughter. Poppy’s mother, Elaine is a confusing figure of contrasts, and Gemma’s situation at home is nearly unbearable. I know we want to show parents as humans, that they can make mistakes, and often put themselves first, but sometimes, portrayals of parents as neglectful and selfish is too narrow. We need to broaden the scope, away from stereotypes and predictability.
But overall, I loved Amelia’s wry observations, and her humble approach to life. While she did bemoan her situation, she never sounded whiny or melodramatic. I thought she dealt well with a terrible tragic situation and is going to be okay. The realism of her situation is important and appreciated.
Before you Forget is recommended for readers who like their contemporary novels a bit gritty, a bit sad, and involving a character who faces adversity bravely. I also love this cover. This novel was released (in Australia) on January 30.