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The Things We Keep


The Things We Keep

New from THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES author Sally Hepworth comes THE THINGS WE KEEP, a poignant, unique look at Alzheimer’s disease and the power of love. Although the subject matter will remind many readers of Lisa Genova’s blockbuster hit, STILL ALICE, Hepworth’s novel stands out on its own, as it approaches the disease from an entirely different --- and remarkable --- perspective.

THE THINGS WE KEEP features two storylines, one set 18 months prior to the other. Beginning in the earlier timeline, we meet Anna Forster, a 38-year-old former paramedic who is beginning to experience the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s, a disease that ripped her mother from her years before. Although Anna can still form thoughts, she occasionally finds herself forgetting simple facts and getting disoriented. Because she has seen the damage Alzheimer’s can cause firsthand, she decides to check herself into Rosalind House, an assisted living facility, before she can no longer make the choice herself. Of course, there is far more to her decision than her wish for independence, including a horrible accident involving her favorite young nephew. Her guilt, along with a bit of resentment, puts her at odds with her brother, Jack, who is not at risk for the disease. Thus the Anna who checks into Rosalind House is a bit bitter, choosing to sit in her room and reject any help or offerings of friendship. That is, until she meets Luke, Rosalind’s second youngest resident.

Like Anna, Luke is affected by early-onset Alzheimer’s, though his presents itself in slurs and stutters rather than lost memories. As the only person who can truly comprehend what Anna is going through, Luke slowly but surely draws Anna out of her shell, allowing us to meet the other residents of Rosalind House, all of whom are more in touch with reality than one would expect --- and very funny. In giving her characters fleshed-out personalities and backstories, Hepworth gives new life to the elderly, challenging those who would simply overlook or discount them. Each resident has something to offer, be it strength, humor, or even a powerful love story. Anna herself is one of the funniest characters I have had the pleasure of reading about in a while, and her disease does nothing to squash her personality.

"Although THE THINGS WE KEEP is not a thriller, Hepworth does a remarkable job of maintaining the suspense as the storylines converge and we learn what has happened to the bold, funny Anna we once knew."

This brings us to the second storyline, which introduces readers to Eve Bennett, a single mother who has come to work as Rosalind’s new chef. From her experience and demeanor, it is clear that Rosalind House is a step down for Eve, but she approaches her new job with dedication and respect, taking the time to learn about the residents’ individual needs and likes. When she sets her eyes on Anna, however, we see that she has deteriorated rapidly, now confined to a wheelchair with little knowledge of the world around her. Eve quickly takes a liking to Anna, though she already has her hands full with her daughter, Clem.

Much like Anna, Eve and Clem have suffered a profound loss that has completely uprooted them and altered their perspectives. Following the shocking death of Clem's father, both are isolated from their former friends and struggling to navigate life as a duo rather than a trio. As Eve takes to her new job, however, they each begin to find new life in Rosalind House, with Eve striking up new friendships and seven-year-old Clem delighting in a new audience for her dances and stories. Writing from Clem's perspective, Hepworth shows readers the world with all the innocence of youth, peppered with the sharp observations of a girl who has been through more than her share of pain. For a while, it seems as though they will fit in perfectly, although Eve cannot stop thinking about Anna.

Returning to the past timeline, readers watch and swoon with teary eyes as Anna and Luke fall in love, promising one another that they will maintain their relationship even as their memories fail them. Hepworth writes with the urgency and passion of a person experiencing first love without weighing down Luke and Anna’s relationship with cheesy one-liners and overused clichés. In a unique twist, Anna is the one who keeps Luke at a distance, with Luke fighting every day to convince her that their lives are still worth living. The Anna of the past is such a far cry from the Anna that Eve encounters that it quickly becomes clear that something is very wrong.

As present-day Eve befriends Anna, we learn that a horrific tragedy occurred, compelling Anna and Luke’s families to separate them permanently. It may sound simple enough to separate two newly introduced people who cannot even remember the word for “pants,” but that is not the case. Something powerful drives Luke and Anna’s passion, and it seems that only Eve can help them live their lives to the fullest, even as they continue to lose their independence. Through Eve’s actions, Hepworth argues that every life has value, and it is not up to the healthy to decide what Alzheimer’s patients can and cannot remember or experience. With so little known about the disease, it is important to keep an open mind, particularly when a choice can enrich a patient’s life. For Eve, the question is only how much she is willing to risk to right a wrong --- especially when it could put her own family at risk.

Although THE THINGS WE KEEP is not a thriller, Hepworth does a remarkable job of maintaining the suspense as the storylines converge and we learn what has happened to the bold, funny Anna we once knew. Few authors can reveal such a dramatic switch early on and still maintain the mystery. Her pacing is bolstered by her use of three narrators: Anna, Eve and Clem, each with her own voice and driving passion. Hepworth’s ability to write such distinct voices was the highlight of the novel for me, as it gave us real insight into each character, allowing us to track their developments on our own. She has clearly done her research, and it shows in every chapter and careful word choice.

Though certainly a tearjerker, THE THINGS WE KEEP is also deeply hopeful and uplifting, a perfect balance for any reader. With plotlines that could be taken from today’s headlines, it offers hope for both the patient and the caregiver, combining sensitive handling of impossible decisions with realistic descriptions of the fear and anger one feels when losing his or her independence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on January 22, 2016

The Things We Keep
by Sally Hepworth

  • Publication Date: January 17, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 1250051924
  • ISBN-13: 9781250051929