Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson
Published January 30, 2017 by Penguin Random House
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars
From the blurb: Year Twelve is not off to a good start for Amelia. Art is her world, but her art teacher hates everything she does; her best friend has stopped talking to her; her mother and father may as well be living in separate houses; and her father is slowly forgetting everything. Even Amelia.
I've put off writing my review of Before You Forget, Julia Lawrinson's latest book because I never enjoy being negative about AussieYA. I read another of Julia's books, Losing It, when it came out and loved it (it got five stars from me) so I expected to feel similarly about her new release, unfortunately that wasn't the case.
Another factor that makes it hard to comment on a book is knowing it's based on the author's life. Julia has written about how this story is based on her daughter's experience of living with a father who develops younger onset Alzheimer's, and so any criticism I have of the story or the characters feels like a criticism of the author and her family, and I want to be clear that is not my intention. It pains me that I didn't enjoy a story that is clearly so personal to the author.
Seventeen year old Amelia is in year twelve and is focused on her love of art. However, her teacher is quite critical and Amelia yearns for approval and praise, much like how she behaves in her relationship with her father. Her dad used to be a lot more involved in her life but lately he's quick to anger and often vague, meaning he no longer takes an interest in her work.
Despite being in year twelve, there was never any urgency or pressure that goes along with being in the final year of school. Nor did Amelia seem like a seventeen year old, I would have placed her at around 12-14 years old, based on her behaviour and the way she communicated.
The story tried to tackle eating disorders in a side plot featuring Amelia's best friend, Gemma. Gemma felt a little shallow as far as character development goes, and I didn't feel as though her anorexia was treated with sensitivity. Amelia also deals with anxiety, her parents' alcoholism, a potential romance, new friendships, and her art, but the length of the novel meant none of these issues got explored in depth.
Last year I read another book about a family dealing with Alzheimer's disease, Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell. It's a heart-wrenching, emotional, and hopeful story. Unfortunately, I kept comparing Before You Forget to Forgetting Foster, and I didn't feel anything. With a premise that sounds so heartbreaking and isolating for the family, I expected to feel a range of emotions, but I never connected to Amelia and so her story left me unmoved.
Reading about how this story came together, memories and incidents pieced together into a narrative, my experience with the story makes a bit more sense. Overall it felt disjointed, it didn't flow, and the scene changes often felt choppy. This might work for some readers, but it did not work for me.
Ableist language: retarded, nuts, dumb, crazy, fool, demented, idiot, lame.
Before You Forget is a novel that attempts to highlight many issues but lacks the depth and exploration that such serious and devastating topics need. It's still wonderfully Australian and does manage to depict how a family copes, or doesn't cope, with the diagnosis of younger onset Alzheimer's.
Thank you to Penguin Random House for my copy.