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Friday, June 17, 2016

Forgetting Foster By Dianne Touchell. Allen and Unwin: Crows Nest, 2016

Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad's stories.

But then Foster's dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.

This is Dianne Touchell's third novel. The first, Creepy And Maud, was on that year's CBCA shortlist. I admit to not having got around to reading that one, so this is my first experience with this author's writing. 

This story, about a family's having to deal with early onset Alzheimer's Disease in the father, is certainly not going to make its readers cheerful. Like the young hero, we know it's not going to go away, ever. Foster misses his funny, gentle, wise father and we miss him too, with all the flashbacks and memories of the delightful, ridiculous stories he used to tell. 

It's painful, watching the father deteriorate and the mother being frustrated and angry and constantly telling Foster to go play in his room when the adults have to discuss things. It's painful seeing how Foster tries to cope at school when word gets around. 

Clearly the author has done her research on what happens when Alzheimer's arrives, or perhaps her family has been through it; an afterword might have been interesting here. 

The story is poignant, yes, but... at whom is it aimed? The blurb says from thirteen up and it's slotted into "young adult" on the publisher's web site, but the hero is seven years old. Teenagers tend not to read books about characters that much younger than themselves. At the same time, the average seven year old is unlikely to get it. I understand that a lot of this couldn't happen if Foster had been thirteen or older; much of it depends on his not understanding quite what's going on, and the reader knowing.  But I think it might have worked better if he had been a little older, perhaps ten or eleven, and the language a little simpler, to make it more suitable for a younger age range. 

Available from June 22nd at all good bookshops and online. You can order it from Booktopia here


Lexa Cain said...

Really interesting review! I love the idea of a book for kids about Alzheimer's since it affects more and more people each year (or so it seems). It's very peculiar that it's marketed to teens, but has a 7 year-old protag, and expects the reader to understand things the protag doesn't. I agree with your suggestion that the book would be better aimed at MG kids and softened a bit in language and content. Odd that she didn't make the protag a teen and write for them. Writing for YA is no harder than writing for MG.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Yes, I'm not sure what she was doing here. But if it had been written with a teen protagonist, Foster's behaviour would have had to be different. A teenager would have a better idea of what was going on, wouldn't have needed a babysitter and perhaps would resent having to give up his social life because of the problem. The dynamics would have been very different. It could be done, but it would have been a very different book. I think making him a bit older and having it as a MG book would still enable her to keep it similar to the current book, but have a different audience.