Our memories are what make us who we are. Some are real. Some are made up. But they are the stories that tell us who we are. Without them we are nobody.
Hattie’s summer isn’t going as planned. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to ‘find himself” and Kat is in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and dealing with endless drama around her mum’s wedding. Oh, and she’s also just discovered that she’s pregnant with Reuben’s baby.
Then Gloria, Hattie’s great-aunt who no one even knew existed, comes crashing into her life. Gloria’s fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery — Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are erased from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future.
How Not To Disappear was a lovely book for very many reasons. The characters were interesting, the themes were important, and the way the story was told made for a really enjoyable read.
The characters which featured in the novel were all rounded, with quirks that made them fun to read about, and they were all very strong and well developed – I thought that the plot was very much driven by the characters. I loved Gloria, as she was feisty and brave, but also had a vulnerable side, and I liked how Hattie and Gloria learned to be in tune with each other. Hattie gradually learned the signs that Gloria was upset and when not to ask questions, but that she was also helpful to Gloria, and helped her to confront her past. I also thought that the twins were hilarious!
The novel had many plot lines, such as Gloria sharing her past and Hattie’s predicament in deciding what to do about her pregnancy. I liked that there were many options for Hattie embodied by those around her, and how ultimately, becoming pregnant as a teenager didn’t ruin her life; instead, she grew stronger from it and continued to have a full life, just one that involved a child. I liked that the plot developed as the road trip continued, as it was almost as if the changes in their environment reflected on the furthering of the storyline, as more of Gloria’s youth was revealed and as the pressure on Hattie to make a decision was increased.
I loved how the novel was told, with alternating perspectives between Hattie and Gloria. While the majority of the novel was from Hattie’s point of view, there were a few chapters told by Gloria. Very often it would have been out of character for Gloria to have talked about her past, as she was quite a stubborn character and responded to feeling vulnerable by becoming defensive, so the change in perspective allowed for the reader to find out about her life whilst her character remained consistent. However, occasionally I did become a little confused as to who was narrating. I also liked that the characters were open and accepting – for example, Hattie’s mother did not judge Hattie for becoming pregnant, and said she would support her – and I think this accepting tone meant that the book felt very positive.
Overall, How Not To Disappear was a lovely book with strong characters, and overall themes which meant the story had some very positive messages, which I find really valuable in a good novel.