Alex’s grandfather keeps forgetting things, and Alex has overheard his adoptive parents say that they’re going to put granddad in a home. His grandfather begs Alex to save him from that, and it’s a promise Alex is desperate to keep But Alex once promised his little brother that he would save him, and in the terror of the Bosnian war, he failed. As Alex struggles to protect his grandfather, he uncovers secrets that his family and the village have kept for two generation. Unravelling them will cause grief, but will they save grandfather, and perhaps help Alex come to terms with his own private war.
A simply written, yet touching and thought-provoking first novel from Ruth Eastham, who was short-listed for the BBC Talent Children’s Fiction Prize.
This is such a sensitively written story for children aged 10 or over focussing on the Smith family and secrets that affect it’s foundations.
Part 1 opens with the family at breakfast. We are shown how protective Alex is of his grandfather Richard. We know there is something Alex is trying to hide in connection with Richard and willing him to remember to eat. This is our first introduction to Alzheimers and straight away we are involved with the emotions that engenders. At the same time, we are made to think how children may see an adopted child (Alex) as an intrusive element into a family unit with the resultant verbal bullying (and later physical as well). I must admit, even though I could understand Leonard and his actions, I really didn’t like his character – but I did have a change of heart later in the story!
I loved the relationship Alex had with his grandfather. Despite the Alzheimers and Richard scaring him a few times, there was still a feeling of these two belonging together. I felt the symptoms of Alzheimers were true-to-life. I had tears a few times when empathising with how the Smith family, including granddad, were affected.
The story flips backwards in time to when Alex was being hunted as a result of the Yugoslavian wars. This is quite central to understanding Alex and how he reacts in certain situations. These flashbacks are written at just the right time, weaving around the secrets that are being uncovered.
The way Ruth Eastham wrote the clues for solving the secrets were brilliantly timed and certainly made me think and try to guess where the story was taking me.
Despite the many threads to this story it is so well written that at no point are you feeling ‘lost’ as the skill of Ruth Eastham has woven them into a whole.
The story for me was not only about a family uncovering its secrets and becoming whole because of the revelations but also of a ‘lost’ child finding himself ……………. and also becoming whole.
I love the way the story finished as it opened bringing us full circle but this time with a different thought, a different outcome. What’s your earliest memory?
At the end of the story in my copy of the book, there are websites mentioning Alzheimers, adoption and the Yugoslavic conflict, all child friendly of course – what a brilliant idea!
My uncorrected proof copy was won during a Twitter Battleships game with @scholasticuk. Thank you Scholastic!