Three generations of a family wrestle with secrets.
Katie knew nothing of a grandmother. But suddenly here one is, because the grandmother’s boyfriend just died and his emergency contact was Katie’s mother, Caroline. Caroline, enraged, wants to leave her mother, Mary, with social services, but despite Mary’s dementia, Mary’s sent home with them, to squish into the three-bedroom flat with Mum, Katie, and Katie’s younger brother. Mum’s smotheringly protective of her kids and now of Mary too, though coldly, without sympathy. Pain and worry seethe from events long-past—Mary’s unwed teen pregnancy and the unknowing Caroline’s tumultuous childhood as the supposed daughter of Mary’s sister—and current: Katie’s fear of admitting that she likes girls. Mary’s always been a glamorous, fiery sparkplug. She broke free from the repressive social mores of white 1950s England. But she’s had heartbreaking losses too, some of which torment her with their emotional pain even after dementia has stolen their details. Katie and Mary walk daily to a cafe, seeking something Mary always forgets but finding, instead, a waitress who ignites Katie’s own fire. The writing, fluidly moving between both Katie’s and Mary’s third-person perspectives, is a wonder. Downham keenly weaves together musings, revelations, confrontations, and poignancy. Her prose gets right down inside human fragility, tenderness, fury, gusto, and strength—leaving sweet, sharp images that are impossible to forget.
Exceptional. (Fiction. 14 & up)