“The ghosts in your life don’t ever really go away. Every so often they will whisper to you…Don’t worry too much.”
I’ve never heard of Back to Blackbrick or its author Sarah Moore Fitzgerald until our dear friends at Pansing put it on the list of books we might want to read. I chose it on the basis of the little blurb Pansing includes on its list. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought I was going to read a book about a child dealing with his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s only to discover it to be so much more.
As this is part of our Saturday Reads post, I’m going to go beyond reviewing this book and touch on a few topics this serendipitous book made me ponder on.
“Sure, how could I possibly forget? What kind of person would I be if I forgot you?”
What happens to a human being when he loses his memories? Human beings are built to remember. We forge relationships by the experiences that bind us and the memories they leave in our hearts. When we meet people, people who have had an impact in our lives, recognizing their faces bring back memories and emotions that remind us of the importance of that person. It is our memories with a person that separates them from strangers. When Cosmo comes face to face with his grandfather’s memory loss, he fights back.
It is excruciatingly painful to watch Cosmo hold on to his grandfather, from his memory exercises to his post-it notes, treating his Grandad Kevin’s disease as a simple result of forgetfulness. There’s this mix of hope and helplessness. His constant need to work on his grandad’s memory as if the project would cure the disease, reminded me of the kind of desperation that gets hold of us when dealing with problems concerning people we love.
THE GRASP OF THE PAST
We all have our past experiences and we all hold on to it with so much intensity, especially the painful and difficult ones. In Cosmo’s family, the past holds painful memories of loss and each person grapples with the past the best way they can, whether it’s to runaway from it or to seek it. The irony of this, is the past is something someone with Alzheimer’s could not comprehend. And while the past is painful it is also what binds people—common history. In the most subtle sense, the reader experiences that push and pull of the past, the wish to forget it while at the same time remember it.
“Yes,” he said, “but sometimes letting go is important too. And we have to learn to do that as well. We have to learn to do it without allowing it to destroy us.”
In this book, the readers watch how the characters come to terms with the past figuratively and literally. Majority of this novel opens the gates of time travel as our protagonist goes back to Blackbrick. As he enters the South gates of Blackbrick he finds himself in the past, forging relationships and discovering more of his personal history than he expected. It is in the past, being immersed in it, the he learns the art of letting go, an irony that would propel his present to the future he was desperately running away from.
THE MEANINGFULNESS OF THE PRESENT
The present is the hardest to live because it is where we face the impact of the past and the indefiniteness of the future. The present is rarely lived at its fullest. In this novel, living with someone afflicted with Alzheimer’s, one is forced to look at the present, at the now. And Cosmo, in order to find a balance and accept the reality of his Grandfather’s memory loss needed to come to terms with the present.
“Cosmo, love. You can’t turn back the clock. I’ve finally accepted that and now you have to try to accept it too.”
The meaningfulness of the present has to do with dealing with anger first, and the loneliness one feels when the one person you love has completely forgotten you. And when Cosmo’s tears dry out, he soon settles on the basics of his life: The truth.
Grasping at what we have no control over consumes us, overpowers us and tires us. And that is the beauty of the present, because living in the now means surrendering the burden of what we have no control over—the past and the future.
“And for the first time in a very long time I didn’t feel like I had to take care of anyone, or rescue anyone, or find anyone, or hide anyone, or feed anyone, or comfort anyone. Which was a bit of a relief, to be honest.”
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I enjoyed it and found myself warm and fuzzy after reading. It wasn’t a perfect novel, but it was a pleasantly good read and something middle grade children would enjoy.
However, I do notice that this novel had too many subplots to follow that wasn’t fleshed out. It would have been ideal if some subplots were edited out and there was more focus on the main theme of the book. The author touched on Alzheimer’s, death of a brother, the world war 2, the falling down of a famous family, unwanted pregnancies and other topics that if you paid close too much attention to would make this novel wanting in terms of delivering a tight story. However, with the major plotline anchored, it still worked for me.
On Other Thoughts
This book made me think of literary works that deal with grandparent-grandchildren relationships. There aren’t that many books that deal with older people. One of the things I hope we could dabble on as part of our reading theme here in GB is on this topic. I didn’t get to meet my grandfathers (paternal and maternal), but I got the opportunity to live with my paternal grandmother and got a glimpse of her life and her history and it’s a fascinating view and it would be interesting to read more of this dynamics in literature.
Do you know any other great stories (picture books/ short stories/ novels) that feature grandparents or those in their advance age as a protagonist of the story? If you do, tell us about it on the Comments Section.
Note: The novel is a review copy from Pansing Books.