Published by Bloomsbury
Publication date – 2 May 2019
Source – Review copy
I am not who I say I am.
Marla isn’t who she thinks she is.
I am a girl trying to forget.
Marla is a woman trying to remember.
Allison has run away from home and with nowhere to live finds herself hiding out in the shed of what she thinks is an abandoned house. But the house isn’t empty. An elderly woman named Marla, with dementia, lives there – and she mistakes Allison for an old friend from her past called Toffee.
Allison is used to hiding who she really is, and trying to be what other people want her to be. And so, Toffee is who she becomes. After all, it means she has a place to stay. There are worse places she could be.
But as their bond grows, and Allison discovers how much Marla needs a real friend, she begins to ask herself –where is home? What is a family? And most importantly, who am I, really?
Allison has run away from a violent home. Trying to track down her dad’s last girlfriend she finds out that she has moved. With no money and nowhere else to turn to, she takes shelter in the shed of what appears to be an abandoned house. But then she meets Marla, who thinks Allison is someone from her past. Slowly the two become friends and Marla shows Allison that family isn’t always dependent on birth.
Allison is a complex character. A product of her environment she is distrustful, scared and on edge. She is unused to showing emotions, confused at first when she starts to care for someone who only shows her kindness. Her father is not a nice man. Acting out his grief and possibly blaming Allison for her mother’s death, he has become someone who can only show emotion through violent actions. The final straw that breaks Allison’s back is one that is hinted at throughout the book and when finally revealed, is gut-wrenching, all the more so as the reader has imagined what could have happened.
Marla is living a life remembered and a life forgotten. Dementia has left her confused about everyday tasks but memories and people for half a lifetime ago are clear and present. When she mistakes Allison for her childhood Toffee both of their lives are changed.
Told in a verse format I did at first think I would struggle to get on with the book. However, that soon changed when I looked up and realised I had read 250 pages in one sitting. The writing style is very impactful. There is inordinate skill in imparting such a moving story in such a unique and clever way. Essentially, the story is told in many poems, each one leading onto the next in chapters. I soon forgot that I was reading verse rather than prose and simply concentrated on the words.
There are lots of issues encapsulated in this novel. Abuse, in it’s different forms, from physical child abuse to mental elder abuse is dealt with in a compassionate and accessible way. Allison has to come to terms with her self-loathing, to realise she has strength and skills and is worthy of love and kindness. She sees through Marla, that pleasure can be found in the small things, and that caring for someone, without the expectation of being cared for in return, has its own rewards.
As the relationship between Allison and Marla develops the reader sees Allison grow stronger. We follow her journey as she grieves for the mother she never knew and the father she never had.
This is a very moving novel, made all the more impacting I think because of the unique way it is told.
This was book 5 of my 20 Books of Summer Challenge.