Saturday 25 February 2017

Before You Forget

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson (Penguin House) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780143574071

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

There is a lot that 17 year old Amelia wishes she could forget in as she attempts to negotiate difficulties in her life as she works towards her final year 12 in high school. Central to her studies is her passion for practical art where she works under the watchful and critical eye of teacher Ms M. Amelia attempts a self-portrait, made more difficult by problems which escalate in her life.

In no particular order is the disintegration of her friendship with long-time bestie Gemma who slips into such a poor state of anorexia that she is hospitalised. Then there is the deterioration of Amelia’s much loved Dad, Simon, who is clearly not coping. In fact, Dad is acting irrationally, constantly muttering to himself, speaking repetitively, driving dangerously, drinking too much, even urinating in a corner of the lounge-room: before long he is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Mum finds it difficult to manage him as she works full-time, so much of the caring for Dad falls on Amelia’s shoulders.

Amelia’s recurring thoughts of the helplessness of people trying to escape the damage caused by planes crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre reflect her attempts to negotiate the constantly changing troubles in her own life. With Gemma mostly non-communicative, Amelia turns to friendship with popular and talented artist Poppy who seems to have her act all together. But Poppy, too, comes from a dysfunctional family: her hippy mother reads tarot cards. Happily, she gives Amelia hope with the cards that her future might be more promising than the present. ‘Potential doesn’t mean anything without application,’ she says, which might well sum up Amelia’s future both in art and in relationships.

Australian Julia Lawrinson writes clearly and well. The characters she portrays, even minor ones such as Dad’s dog Hecta, and his eventual carer Rosetta, are all three-dimensional and interesting. The reader comes to really care about Amelia and the problems in her life. She is a strong character who does the best she can under difficult circumstances. And then there’s the cute boy next door – Will, who offers friendship – and the possibility of a romance.

Ultimately this is an ultimately uplifting story which, like life for all of us, and especially for teenagers, is constantly changing as are our family and friendships and circumstances. As the book concludes, Amelia observes that it’s like watching
the tide go out: ‘the waves lose their strength… and the water recedes into the ocean… before you know it… you can swim in the flat water.’ One day her father might not recognise her. And she is able to come to terms with that.

This is a brave book exploring many themes and certainly worthy of attention. Perhaps it will win awards.

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