Dianne Touchell, Forgetting Foster, Allen & Unwin, 22 July 2016, 240 pp., $19.99 (pbk.), ISBN: 9781760110796
Innocently poignant and devastatingly beautiful is this novel by Dianne Touchell. She has captured the perspective of a child confronting the frailty of a parent with such rawness that, at times, it hurt to read. But make no mistake; it is a hurt no one should miss out on.
Seven-year-old Foster knows something is not right when his father starts to forget things. Small forgetting turns into big forgetting and while he is told there’s “nothing to worry about” the hole in his heart and the ache in his belly tell him that this is just not true.
The cover design cleverly mimics the ‘hole’ in Foster’s father’s head left behind by this strangely named disease, Alzheimer’s. It reinforces the themes of emptiness and loneliness in a child who never knew you could miss someone so much even when they are right in front of you.
Foster misses a whole lot more than the father he knew. He misses the stories he told, his mother’s attention, his carefree school days and himself, that is the self that enjoyed the security of an ongoing and comforting family narrative. Alzheimer’s not only eats away at his father’s mind, it also destroys Foster’s identity, his relationship with his mother, and his innocence. So eloquently put by Touchell, “he was unprepared for how much a change in someone else could wilt the pieces of himself he thought he knew best”.
Stories of family life with a touch of whimsy are lovingly interwoven with the harshness of Foster’s present and help him interpret the increasingly complex world around him. This often leads to humourous misinterpretations (“Nostril Dumbass” instead of Nostradamus) that at times become heartbreaking in their innocence.
The whole time I was reading this book I thought that every parent and every teacher should do the same, if only to be reminded that the idiom often repeated to children, ‘honesty is the best policy’ should also apply to adults who deal with children. Foster’s suffering is tenfold because he is left out of all discourse surrounding his father’s illness and ‘protected’ from the truth. It is the silence and off handed dismissal that make his anxiety grow into a fiery dragon in his gut before exploding in anger.
I recommend this book for young adults who remember not being heard and for adults who have forgotten what it’s like. This is one book that will stay with you long after the last word is read. It’s certainly five stars from me.
Reviewed by Katie Mineeff