Twelve-year-old Cassie Rodrigues has always been close to her Mom with her courage, strength, caring personality and adventurous spirit. Their trips to the beach were stuff dreams are made of. Kim was a strong swimmer who was in love with the ocean and really enjoyed ice-cream and flying kites. She wanted to swim across the Channel one day and whatever this wonderful woman set her mind on was not impossible. Until she started forgetting things and feeling disoriented. She couldn’t follow a conversation or drive safely. Something was seriously wrong. Cassie’s Mom got diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and everything in Cassie’s life has changed.
Cassie’s Mom’s doctor tried to explain the illness like this: ‘Let’s say you’re trying to connect two pieces of paper together with glue. The pieces of paper are brain cells. On the spot where you need to attach them, there are patches of sand and dirt. And when you try to glue the papers, they don’t stick.’
Relentlessly, Kim is losing her memory and Cassie knows she is running out of time.
The author did a wonderful job showing Cassie’s mixed feelings. She is sad, and angry at the illness, not her Mom, who cannot take care of her the way other parents do, and she is grateful that her Mom is still there with them.
Cassie is an artistic soul, but she seems unable to create, because everything is dwarfed by the enormity of what is happening to her mother. Cassie has always liked maths, numbers and patterns that help her make the sense of the world. Now she has to live with ‘dark, scary, and unpredictable’, like the fact that her Mom doesn’t remember her name anymore.
Cassie tries to use her art to help her Mom’s brain find a way to her memories, which are still there, but are locked and inaccessible.
Cassie is finding it difficult to explain her Mom’s illness and what her family is going through to other people, even to her best friend Bailey, so she is pushing everyone away, until people stop trying to talk to her and she is left alone. Cassie didn’t mean to hurt Bailey’s feelings, but the way back to rebuilding their friendship and opening up isn’t easy. Bringing Bailey home to work on a school project helps Cassie immensely. Bailey helps her see her Mom as a whole person again.
When Cassie’s Dad says it is time to move Kim to a specialised facility, Cassie begs him to give her mother one last adventure, something that was on her bucket list. When he refuses even to consider it, Cassie decides to organise it herself (with a little help of Bailey and her older sister).
This short middle-grade book is both powerful and poignant. It is about family, art, friendship, and dealing with changes. It is difficult for a child to see their parent slip away, and it is difficult for the other spouse to have to make all choices and take all responsibility that used to be shared. Sandy Stark-McGinnis wrote an incredibly deep, beautiful and heart-breaking book about things that make us what we are.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Bloomsbury for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.