Wow. Just wow. I haven't been this riveted to a book in a long time. This book is so captivating but heartbreaking, too. Claire Armstrong is in her early forties but has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's Disease, something her own father suffered from. She has two daughters, Caitlin, from a previous relationship and Esther, with her husband, Greg.
Right away, I felt devastated for Claire. I love books where I actually care for the characters. Not only does she have this horrible disease, but because it is early onset, there are times where Claire is aware of what's happening to her. I can't imagine anything more frightening.
The book is told in alternating points of view: Claire, Greg, Caitlin and Claire's mother, Ruth. There are a lot of things to work through for this family, not only Claire's disease but issues with her daughter Caitlin as well.
SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD: Just like Claire, Caitlin finds herself young and pregnant by a guy who is in no way committed to her. In fact, he is under the impression that Caitlin has terminated the pregnancy when in fact, she has not. Caitlin has dropped out of university and on top of everything else, such as dealing with her mother's illness, Caitlin learns that Claire has kept a secret from her. All her life, Caitlin has believed that her father has wanted nothing to with her, when it has been Claire who had never told Caitlin's father that she even existed.
Claire feels that with her illness rapidly taking away her identity, that Caitlin should find her father and start a relationship with him, since she won't be with them mentally much longer. Claire has enough lucid moments to help Caitlin arrange a meeting with her father and we are left to believe that she will start a relationship with him and his current family.
There are other parts to Caitlin's story, such as meeting a boy who falls in love with her, but to be totally honest, the only reason I sympathized with Caitlin was because she was losing her mother even as she was still with her. I had a hard time drumming up compassion for her when she lamented about being a pregnant dropout because that was all her doing. However, you can't help feeling bad for her knowing that she's well aware of what's happening to her mother.
The other person you feel for is Claire's husband Greg and their three year old daughter, Esther. Greg misses Claire so badly and to make matters worse, they have not been married very long. Also, you know that Esther is getting a raw deal because she will never really know her mother.
You also feel the struggle that Ruth, Claire's mother, is also dealing with. She has already buried her husband (Claire's father) due to the same disease, so having to see her daughter taken by the same thing is incomprehensible.
Fortunately, due to a suggested exercise from a counselor, Claire starts a memory book which everyone contributes to. They all write memories and paste mementos in the book. The reader gets to see what is added to the book and why and reading some of the stories behind the items can be downright heart-wrenching.
For me, the person I felt worst for is Claire. I read this book on my Kindle and I have never highlighted so many things in a book before. One of the things that Claire notices that during her struggle with knowing she is rapidly losing a grip on reality is the fact that at times, she's fully aware of what's going on. While she is grateful that she still knows certain things, it terrifies her that she knows what's happening. She says, "This part is the worst part. The part when I know what I am losing. This is the part I never want to end and the part I want over now."
The other part that really stuck out for me is when she observes that when trying to come up with a witty retort to someone, "I am not a pitiable person, and not just a disease. But nothing comes to mind, which reminds me, only too clearly, that I am both."
Even though the book is filled with sadness, there are happy moments, too. And the main message of this book is love. Claire's husband loves her so much that he finds a way to break through his wife's disease and finds the love they used to share. I won't go into that here, but if you read this book, I guarantee that you will find what Greg does unforgettable.
This book was so wonderful for several reasons. One, I really cared about these characters and that says to me that the author possesses real talent to make me have compassion for people who aren't even real. Two, it is a book that I know will stick with me. Three, it brings awareness to a horrible disease that I can only pray we will see a cure for someday soon. Alzheimer's robs people of their most cherished family members. I lost my grandmother to this monster and think of how hard it was to actually grieve for her while she was physically still here. For more information visit www.alz.org.
*Book provided by publisher on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review* Thank you for the opportunity to read this novel.