The Things We Keep
By: Sally Hepworth
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: 1/19/2016
My Rating: 5 Stars + Top Books of 2016 Anna Forster, in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease at only thirty-eight years old, knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to Rosalind House, an assisted living facility. She also knows there's just one another resident her age, Luke. What she does not expect is the love that blossoms between her and Luke even as she resists her new life at Rosalind House. As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to what she knows, including her relationship with Luke.
When Eve Bennett is suddenly thrust into the role of single mother she finds herself putting her culinary training to use at Rosalind house. When she meets Anna and Luke she is moved by the bond the pair has forged.
But when a tragic incident leads Anna's and Luke's families to separate them, Eve finds herself questioning what she is willing to risk to help them.
A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
The best since Nicholas Sparks,The Notebook and Lisa Genova’s Still Alice. In addition, fans of Diane Chamberlain’s Necessary Lies’ character Jane, will appreciate Eve’s tenacity, to cross the lines to help those in a life threatening situation. Following debut, Secrets of Midwives, Sally Hepworth returns with another smashing hit -- THE THINGS WE KEEP, an enthralling story of lives which connect, in the midst of tragedy. Heartwarming, and compassionate--full of intensity, suspense, wit, unwavering love, loss, pain, joy, romance, and redemption. Prime movie adaptation material. An excellent portrayal of early Alzheimer’s disease, and those who will risk it all to offer help to those in need. In a secondary storyline, another powerful story of a courageous young single mother, shunned by her peers, and a daughter being bullied at school. Two extraordinary stories. Each could be taken from today’s top controversial headlines. In this story, Eve was unable to save her husband; however, a desperate need to save Anna. Love, love . . . the cover, the novel, and the author’s writing, passion, research, and humor. My Top Book List for 2016. We all need a special friend like Eve in our corner. Because you have Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean you cannot possess the ability to love. (Powerful stuff). Move this one to the top of your reading list! As the book opens we meet Anna. Flashing back and forth from fifteen months ago, and days leading up to the present, we meet Anna Forster. She is afraid. She knows she is losing her independence, her mind, and her memories. She fears for tomorrow. The reason for writing notes to herself, so she does not forget. Her mom also had the big A. She does not want to be one of those drugged out zombies, causing a burden. (Sad, but Anna is so funny sometimes). A closet, a bathroom, a hall? Which door to choose? What to wear – simple choices…one sentence, she cannot finish the next thought. She gets agitated, scared, confused. She cannot communicate her thoughts. Is it winter or summer? She does not have a clue. However, she may still know what the heart wants. Anna is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease at only thirty-eight years old. She had to quit her job as a paramedic. Now at age thirty-nine she is going into a home. Her dad left home when she was a child, when discovering her mom had Alzheimer’s. Unlike Anna, who left her husband when she found out she had the horrible disease. She made it her choice. An unforgiving disease that takes away memory and impacts a patient's independence. Now single, with no children, Anna’s twin brother, Jack attempts to take care of her needs by moving her into his home. However, with younger children in the home, he soon learns they cannot trust Anna’s behavior—she is forgetful—no one is safe ----especially her five year old nephew, Ethan. Jack talks Anna into moving into the Rosalind House, (of course, she has no choice)—a small nice boutique assisted living residence for senior citizens. However, she is NOT a senior citizen. An old folks’ home. A day program for people like her--- and also people not like her. Only five percent of Alzheimer’s cases occur in people under the age of sixty-five. The only positive note about this place is a guy, also with younger-onset dementia. A guy her brother had heard about through a support network. His name is Luke. Ah . . Luke (loved him). He is good-looking, great attitude, charming, and has frontotemporal dementia. He has lost some of his speech (slurred) and stutters; whereas Anna has lost memories. He is also in his thirties. We meet a variety of other residents, (all hilarious) from Bert (who talks to his dead wife, Myrna)—Clem likes him; Clara (Southern lady) in her eighties, and husband, Laurie; Eric, the center’s manager (not so nice), Luke the young guy, the handsome gardener, and others. Anna’s doctor (Dr. Brain) her neuropsychologist-- explained memories tended to evaporate in reverse order. This meant her oldest memories would be the ones to hang around the longest, and new information, quick to disappear into the black hole of no return, in her brain. Eve Bennett. Next we meet another main character, with her own drama. Eve lands at Rosalind House as a place to work. She notices the sign: A place which says, “Giving them peace of mind, and giving you peace of mind.” (their mission). Eve is in dire need of a job and some peace. She was a formerly the head chef at a hot NYC Asian fusion restaurant and a graduate of the finest culinary school. She is applying for the lowly cook position. She has a seven year old daughter, Clem at the nearby elementary school, and needs this job at Rosalind House to use the address so her daughter does not have to change schools. Unfortunately, her former fancy job, millions of dollars, beautiful home, expensive cars, stylish clothes, and stock broker investment manager--handsome husband Richard is long gone. A past life, since his Ponzi scheme, worse than Bernie Madoff. (we all know him well here in Palm Beach County). Richard is not here to help her with her problems and to raise her daughter. He was a good father and husband; however, got greedy. She loved him. She misses him. She is angry. She did not see it coming. He knew he would go to jail. She still feels guilt, to this day. However, she has a good attitude. The women do not like her now, that she has no money or status. She is trying to start over. Eve is trying desperately to raise her young daughter, among a cruel bunch of little girls and judgmental mothers. Now her daughter is being bullied. She needs this job at Rosalind House and hopes the school does not question this as not her home address. She is trying to keep all the bad stuff from her daughter, to protect her. They live in a rundown old apartment and she has no friends left. Her family is now the Rosalind House. She soon finds herself at Rosalind House, working as a cook; however, Eric the manager, is trying to save money (or so he says) and she has to clean toilets, rooms, and cook, while he seeks someone for the cleaning job. She only wants to cook, but takes the job, as she is desperate. The gardener at first has issues with her, since his sister was victim of her husband’s Ponzi scheme; however, as time goes on, they become friends and possibly a little more. She cannot seem to go anywhere without running into her past. After Anna attempted to jump off the roof, (intentional or not?) –she and Luke start spending more time together. They are fond of one another and can relate. They understand one another. He gives her the will to live, to go on. They are just a few years apart. She calls him the Young Guy. They start going to each other’s rooms at night. However, Jack does not agree with this behavior, thinking his sister is not of sound mind to have a relationship. Luke’s sister thinks it could be a good idea. Soon management is involved and the staff job is to keep the two love birds apart. They lock them in at night. They are not allowed to speak to one another, as if they were teenagers. In the meantime, with all the drama going on in Eve’s life, she risks her job to help Luke and Anna –in order for them to spend more time with one another. She thinks they deserve happiness. Eve befriends Anna. She sees Anna’s happiness and wants to give her hope. She was not able to help her husband, so she will help Anna, and her daughter, no matter what. In the midst of Eve’s problems, and the tension between Luke, Anna, the families and the staff, there is a sweet little girl, Clementine (Clem), Eve’s daughter, who wins the hearts of all the residents at Rosalind House. Compelling! In addition to the unwavering love, Hepworth conveys a message. Not only a love story, she highlights issues related to the caregivers, family members, and their tough choices. As in this story, it is always difficult knowing the right thing to do. Anna was unable, to say what she was thinking, often the case with patients--tough for all parties concerned, such as agitation, confusion, tension, and short tempers. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are strategies to delay progression, maximize function and maintain independence. Overcoming adversity, challenges, and allowing people into our lives when it appears there is no hope left. Living the best we can with the cards we are dealt. Ultimately, a resilient couple, and a single mom whose love withstands illness and hardships. The emotions, and the intensity, will have you page-turning into the wee hours of the morning. You will fall in love with the characters - they tend to linger long after the book ends. Still thinking of the story.
Anna: “Dr. Brain once told me that an Alzheimer’s brain was like the snow on a mountain peak—slowly melting. There are days when the sun is bright and chunks drop off all over the place and there are days when the sun stays tucked behind clouds and everything remains largely intact. Then there are days—spectacular days (his words)—when you stumble across a trail you thought had melted, and for a short while you have something back that you through was gone forever.”
However, Anna would have preferred it this way:
“The brain is like a filthy, stinking pile of crap. When the sun comes out, it stinks worse than you can imagine, and when it’s cold or cloudy, you can barely smell it at all. Then there are the days that, if the wind is coming from a certain way, you might catch the cold scent of a spruce for a few hours and forget the crap is even there. With that analogy, at least we’d have been calling a 'spade a spade'. Because the truth is, if you have dementia, your brain is CRAP. An even if you can’t smell it right this minute, it still stinks.”
Inspiration Behind the Novel
I enjoyed reading Hepworth’s inspiration behind the book. She nailed it. “Dementia isn’t the only place that memories are found to be flawed—people find out they can’t rely on their memories every day. People blindsided in relationships. People who find out their truth is a lie. People pulled from trauma. People awakened, as in Anna and Eve. I wondered: If you can’t use memories to steer your life, what can you use? I didn’t know. It was why I had to write this book.” ---Sally Hepworth
THE THINGS WE KEEP, is an accurate portrayal of the struggles of both patient and the caregiver. From sensitive decisions about the care, confusion, emotional, and agitated states of the patient, when they are giving up their independence, as well as losing the mind and memories. It also depicts the realistic emotional decisions family members face, when placing loved ones in a home and trust to provide adequate care for the patient. A time worthy piece with so many baby boomers having to care for their elderly parents as well as their own health.
True Account I am currently reading an ARC of a true story/memoir: Before I Forget Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer's by B. Smith, Dan Gasby, Michael Shnayerson (coming Jan 19, 2016) about B’s (famous chef and model) fight with early Alzheimer’s. It comes out the same day as THINGS WE KEEP, highly recommend both books. Hepworth’s fictional tale is close to the factual.
On a personal note: During the reading of this book, my sister texts me about Miss Dorothy (a woman she kept for years with Alzheimer’s), who died that same day -- only weeks after they put her in a home. Loved this woman, she was funny and sassy. She was so much like Anna. She said some of the same things. She could not cope with being away from her husband and her routine-- went downhill quickly. As usual, I go on and on about this story on the phone. My sister thinks it is a true story, and finally exclaims, “Let me guess, another one of your books?” "Yes. A good one at that, which could be true, it was so real! (Thank you, very much)," I say. FYI: Last time I told my nine-year-old granddaughter about a thriller mystery book I was reading, (she asked), she repeats the entire story to all her friends at school, and family members for a month. My son calls to say, “Some stories, you need to keep to yourself.” (My granddaughter definitely shares my passion of books, and reading; however, no one else in the family does).
Feb 2016 Indie List
"In the same class with Still Alice. I loved each of the characters in Rosalind House for their complexity and frustration with their ailments. Jack, Eve, Rosie, and even the teachers and mothers at Clementine's school clearly demonstrate that loving someone does not mean knowing what is best for that person. In fact, sometimes that love and the desire to protect can be the most damaging." (Kristin Pidgeon, Penguin Bookshop) "With honesty and true understanding, Sally Hepworth pens this poignant story of one of today's nightmares: early-onset Alzheimer's...Sad in places, redemptive at times, joyous also, The Things We Keep begs to be read for its timeliness and authenticity. The discussion possibilities for book clubs seem endless." (Nancy Simpson-Brice, The Book Vault). Read More
About the Author
Sally Hepworth has lived and travelled around the world, spending extended periods in Singapore, the U.K., and Canada, where she worked in event management and Human Resources. While on maternity leave, Sally finally fulfilled a lifelong dream to write, the result of which was Love Like the French, published in Germany in 2014. While pregnant with her second child, Sally wrote The Secrets of Midwives, published worldwide in English, as well as in France, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 2015. A novel about three generations of midwives, The Secrets of Midwives asks readers what makes a mother and what role biology plays in the making and binding of a family. The Secrets of Midwives has been labelled “enchanting” by The Herald Sun, “smart and engaging” by Publisher’s Weekly, and New York Times bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Emily Giffin have praised Sally’s debut English language novel as “women’s fiction at its finest” and “totally absorbing”. Sally’s next novel is titled the Things We Keep and will be published in February 2016. She is currently working on her next novel. Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two children. Connect with Sally: Website Twitter Goodreads
Coming in Paperback
Dec 29, 2015
The Secrets of Midwives
My Rating: 5 Stars
“The Secrets of Midwives is women's fiction at its finest. Sally Hepworth has written a wonderfully satisfying story about three generations of midwives. It's touching, tender and obviously meticulously researched, giving the reader a fascinating window into the amazing world of midwifery. A delightful read.” ―Liane Moriarty, author of The Husband's Secret More