Thursday 15 April 2021

Everything We Keep

Everything We Keep
by Di Walker (Omnibus Books) PB RRP $18.99 ISBN 9781760972349

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Thirteen-year-old Agatha has a happy home life until a tragedy slowly but dramatically changes her parents. Since then, Agatha has been in and out of foster care, but her latest new life is with Katherine, her husband Lawson (at sea for most of the book), and their dog Chief. This life has proved to be safe, and happy as Katherine is calm and attuned to routine, both of which Agatha wants and needs. However, as has happened too many times, Agatha is returned to her parents, to the home she hates, mostly because of her parents’ hoarding. Agatha has a pathological need for order, so when her social worker Nell insists that she return to her parents and her home (which has been somewhat tidied by strangers and neighbours for her return), she is so distressed she runs away, taking her bright orange suitcase which plays a key part in her life. It’s a long way to Katherine’s place, involving a bus and two train trips. However, Katherine is not home nor answering her phone, so Agatha needs to rely on strangers.

This is the start of a novel which, overall, is a satisfying read, full of complex problems, but ultimately imbued with hope. Gentle and compassionate, Everything We Keep is well-written as it explores themes of interest to young readers – family, belonging, anxiety, mental health, and friendship. Some people who come into Agatha’s life – particularly her new friend Tully’s mother Celeste -- cause her more problems, but once she overcomes her school-phobia, with kind adult help, she slowly begins to make friends and to see a future for herself.

Everything, however, is not smooth sailing, and Agatha is ultimately called on to learn to trust, especially adults who have often let her down. By the book’s end, her relationship with her grieving and mentally ill parents and what has caused their fractured life is somewhat resolved, and she has overcome her jealousy of Katherine’s relationship with Lawson who is finally home on shore leave. In fact, Agatha has so many problems with relationships it might prove confronting for some young readers who know little of fostering and mental illness. However, the author manages to write intelligently and wisely so that by book’s end all problems are satisfactorily solved.

It is a shame this moving novel is spoilt so often with typographical errors and with shifts in tense. Overall, though, it recommended for readers aged nine years and over.

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