My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This novel is so wonderful. It is full of live and love. It is moving and funny and shocking at times. I really did enjoy it very much.
How not to Disappear tells the story of 17-year-old Hattie, alone for the summer and secretly pregnant as she discovers and connects with great-aunt Gloria, diagnosed with dementia and looking for one last adventure. The pair head off on a sort of ‘journey down memory lane’ road trip as Gloria shares her own secrets with Hattie, while she still has the chance. This novel tells both this present story, as well as flashbacks from Gloria’s life and the struggles she had to face when she was younger. The pair learn how to deal with each other’s quirks and learn a great deal more; they are more alike than it first appears.
Furniss very well crafted both, in fact, all the women in this book. They are all different, but even Hattie’s young sister Alice was crafted well enough to be strong, yet vulnerable. Each character in this book is so real – I think that was maybe my favourite part of the book. The whole cast of characters is unique and flawed and special – even the less likeable ones are not so easily blamed, once you delve a little deeper into their character.
I say ‘maybe’ my favourite part because I am so impressed with the way that Furniss dealt with so many heavy topics in such an accessible way. The novel deals with teen pregnancy and dementia (obviously), but also looks at birth, death (and voluntary euthanasia), queer representation, feminism, discrimination (racial and otherwise), abortion, domestic violence and rape, and gender roles – just to name a few. Everything is handled sensitively, but it manages to not be preachy – particularly with the issues specifically that Hattie and Gloria are facing. As the book is divided into two time periods, parallels can be drawn between the two young women and the way somewhat similar situations were managed.
Although the perfect timing of meeting Gloria initially seemed a little too convenient, up till that point the book was a bit hard to get into. Overall I was glad the plot progressed the way it did, though I felt the epilogue jumped too far forward for Hattie’s decision without any real explanation, I was glad Furniss didn’t take the easy road for the characters. I especially thought that Gloria’s arc progression was perfect. The plot twists occurred almost exclusively in Gloria’s flashbacks, and I did not see them coming. Hattie’s present mostly involved a lot of to-and-fro thinking and ruminating, but I thoroughly enjoyed being in her head – it made me question what I would do in her shoes – and she had some interesting insights. I also thought the Furniss did a really good job of creating Gloria’s present voice, when we read from her point-of-view fear of the illness and Gloria’s battle is remarkably written.
This is the first of Furniss’ books I have read, I will definitely be picking up her first novel – and on the lookout for any new releases. I am so glad this book is so pretty, because I certainly do not regret reading it.