I’ve been reading so many books about memory lately – The Leaving, Unbecoming, and How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss (Simon & Schuster, 2016). An unexpected favourite from the past year – so much more than I thought it would be.
“Oh and by the way, you know how we accidently had sex a month ago? Turns out I’m pregnant.”
Hattie wishes she could tell her friend Reuben this, but he’s holidaying in the south of France with his latest squeeze. Kat, the other friend Hattie could tell, is in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Hattie is onto her fourth pregnancy test, hoping this time it’ll be different and she won’t need to tell anyone.
“I look at Gloria with her red hair and glass of champagne and expression of utter disdain and wonder how many expletives she’d manage to fit into a sentence if I asked her to teach me to knit or bake me a cake.”
In the middle of all this disaster Hattie finds out she has a great aunt Gloria the family never knew. Hattie thinks investigating the mystery is the perfect antidote to worrying how many weeks have passed and she still hasn’t told anyone.
“I’m going to prove him and Mum wrong, and I’m going to prove to myself what a good person I am, thoughtful and responsible and caring, not feckless and stupid, which is how I feel.”
Gloria is in the early stages of dementia and with encouragement from Hattie, decides a road trip through her past will help reconcile the looming loss of all she knows. Since Hattie’s family have left for two weeks in Spain, her Mum won’t need the car. With help from Gloria’s neighbour Peggy, they book accommodation and set off for Cambridge and beyond.
“And soon, unless I tell it, it will be gone, washed away like words written in the sand as the tide comes in…”
While Gloria’s dementia is integral to the story, unwanted pregnancy is as important. Hattie’s current predicament compared to Gloria’s memories of her own pregnancy. The choice women now have, compared to fifty years ago. Hattie’s angry outburst that she’s pregnant is the reason Gloria changed her mind about talking to her.
“Words take a long time to make the journey from my head to my hand these days, they get tangled and go missing and pop up in the wrong places if I’m not careful.”
Hattie realises during the road trip that there are other ways to “disappear” than losing memories. Lose the self you might have become had you made a different choice. Memory loss is always present, but so is the choice Hattie has to make: to have an abortion or not. And why she’s putting off that decision, to the point where it may no longer be a choice.
“There’s no choice that won’t be hard, that won’t hurt, that I won’t regret.”
The central mystery of Gloria’s life – why Hattie’s family never knew her – and the clever twists they encounter on their road trip make for a compelling story.
This book, along with Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann, are required reading for teenagers who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and have to make the momentous decision of whether to have a baby or not. As Hattie and Addie found, whatever they decide, it will be hard, but the right choice for that point in their young life. Many have made the choice and come through the other side.
I read the ebook of How Not to Disappear with the blue cover. I loved the internal design with different chapter headings for Hattie’s and Gloria’s points-of-view.
But I first saw the paperback in a book store with this cover, which I infinitely prefer. Gloria spinning on the Common with her arms outstretched. The first scene of the book with her teenage innocence, before everything began.
“The girl who threw her head back to the sky and pirouetted on the Common, who said I am not afraid.”