Ruby Donaldson has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, and she’ll be damned if she won’t straighten out her troubled family before she no longer knows how.
Ruby spent years fighting to hold on to the home her grandmother built on Ward’s Island. The only way she can ensure that her younger, mentally scarred daughter Grace can live there for the rest of her life is to convince her older daughter, Liz, to sober up and come home.
Ruby always thought she’d have a lifetime to make things right, but suddenly time is running out. She has to put her broken family back together quickly while searching for a way to deal with the inevitable- and do it with all the grit, stubbornness, and unstoppable determination that makes Ruby who she is…until she’s Ruby no longer.
I was in a pretty serious reading slump during the month of May. I couldn’t get through a book for anything. Then, I picked up Island Girl and “Oh joy” the slump was over. This story pulled me right in and kept me entranced until the very end. While not every one was likable every page of the book I really cared what happened to the characters and wanted to know how their stories would end.
There were a lot going on in this book. We dealt with family estrangement, addictions, Alzheimer’s, how we treat adults with learning disabilities, how we choose to live with illness, and yet-it’s not a downer at all.
The story revolves around matriarch Ruby and her two daughters Grace and Liz. Grace lives with learning disabilities and, because of her mother’s dire warnings, is terrified to leave home. Liz has let addiction destroy a promising career and, because of her mother’s past behavior, is too angry to return home.
The central question, for me, in this story is “Do we forgive someone’s past because they become ill”? Do the people Ruby has wronged forgive her because she soon won’t remember what she did wrong? Or can you forgive when they forget?
I know a little about Alzheimer’s, enough to know it’s a mean and devastating fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I haven’t read any books where the get the suffers point of view and this was very interesting for me. I imagine it must be close to what some people feel. Ruby leaves notes and keeps a notebook to reminder of what she may forget. We see the frustration as the disease takes away more of her life.
What I really liked about this book is Ruby is not some heroic “fighter” wisely dealing with her disease. She screws up, she lies to people, she’s now a stiff upper lip kind of gal. Often times in these kind of stories the “heroine” is a paragon with words of wisdom and support for those who are suppose to support her. That ain’t Ruby and I love her for it. She’s real and she’s grows and in the end she does find an amount of victory in her un-winnable battle.
This really is a wonderful story about how we move on and get past our past. A story that tells us even if we justified sometimes we have to put away past grievances and become a family again.
The Island is as much a character in this story as any person. And to quote Liz Lemon from 30 Rock “I want to go to there”. I’ve made no secret of my Canada infatuation and now I want to live here. It combines everything I love in a place quirky characters, interesting scenery, and swan boats. Seriously, I love swan boats.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the secondary characters in this book. They are rich and vibrant and I want some of them to have their own story. Oh, alright let me just say it, I want a Nadia to have her own book. Nadia is Liz’s no-nonsense, Russian, school teacher, roommate. She kicks Liz’s but and tells here what’s what and basically just rocks every scene she’s in and I’d love to see more of her. Don’t you just love when all the characters jump off the page?
I would have loved this book just because it got me over my reading slump but really it just spoke to me. It said so much about how we chose to live, how we handle devastating illness, how we forgive, and how me move on. Do yourself a favor and don’t pass this one up, you’ll be glad you read it.
Now I’m off to read Getting Rid of Rosie, another of Lynda’s works that just came in the mail. Hurray!!