How Not To Disappear by Clare Furniss
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Publisher: Simon and Schuster, 2016
Synopsis: 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.
I bought How Not To Disappear with my final fiver at YALC last year and, overall, I’m glad I did. This was an interesting and unique addition to the YA Contemporary genre and definitely left me guessing.
For a start, it reads a little like a mystery. Hattie, pregnant by her best friend Reuben, finds a distraction from her worries when she learns of her great aunt, Gloria, who has the onset of dementia and wants to tell her story to one of the few living relatives she has left.
The story is actually written from two POVs, with Hattie and Gloria our narrators. Hattie narrates more, and Gloria’s chapters are used mainly to recount her story. I found this alternating POV quite refreshing in a YA novel. Usually, if there is more than one narrator, they will both be young adults. Yet here, we have one in her late teens and the other in her 70s (I think, I can’t remember if we ever learn her exact age). However, Gloria’s chapters, whilst they are her recounting her teens, her narration often slips into the voice and mindset of teenage Gloria. So, for anyone who is reading this review and worries Gloria’s chapters will be boring and ‘old’, they’re not. After all, Gloria is still very much the same spirited woman with a temper, she’s now just wiser and more worldly.
I liked both Hattie and Gloria, although Hattie did grate on me sometimes. In an effort to distract herself from making a decision on keeping or terminating her pregnancy, she constantly pushes Gloria with quite awkward and probing questions. Gloria’s story is not an easy one to swallow, and from the start it’s clear she’s a woman with a lot of barriers, and just agreeing to tell her story to her long-lost great niece is a big step for her. As such, I thought Hattie could be quite rude and pushy. I know she has her own things to think about, but it doesn’t mean Gloria’s very personal life story shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Gloria, on the other hand, was also rude, but I found it amusing. She has these barriers up for a reason and, in all honesty, I was more interested in her story than I was in Hattie’s. And whilst she was rude, she was also fierce, caring, wise. I really liked her.
As I said, the format was interesting and unique – a teenage girl going on a road trip with her great aunt to find ‘the end’ of the story. I became engrossed in both sides of the story: Hattie’s friendship with Reuben and her indecision with regards to the pregnancy, and Gloria’s dark past.
Let me just say, if you’re expecting a romance in this book, then don’t hold your breath. However, I was glad there wasn’t really a romance; that was another aspect of this YA Contemporary that was refreshing. It was very much about the two women and their decisions, not the men in their life. Besides, I wasn’t a fan of Reuben. He was selfish and thought he was god’s gift (which he really wasn’t). I also wasn’t sure why Hattie even wanted him as a friend to begin with.
The other characters we meet along the way are generally interesting, but mostly only if they’re connected to Gloria’s story, if I’m honest. As I mentioned previously, this book is also a bit of a mystery, and I didn’t guess the majority of its twists and turns correctly, which I was glad about. The characters are weaved well into these twists and reveals, which kept me reading.
The writing was generally good. Nothing exceptional, but it wasn’t horrendous, it was just normal. However, I don’t think the proofreader did an amazing job with this book. There were quite a lot of missing words etc. that I picked up on, which could be a little jarring. Despite these little hiccups, the story was still moving, and I found myself tearful towards the end. It’s definitely what I would call a ‘mature YA’, due to its one teenage narrator and one adult narrator, and the topics it deals with. I did think the pregnancy dilemma was handled well. It was perhaps a bit frustrating sometimes as Hattie wouldn’t face up to the reality of it, but I suspect that’s more just to do with me and what I know I’d do in her situation.
So, all in all, this was a refreshing addition to the genre, and I recommend it if you’re not a huge contemporary fan. I’m not, and this still interested me enough to keep reading. It wasn’t all floaty and airy like some YA Contemporary’s can be, nor was it overdone with romance. Instead, it was unique, sometimes dark, sometimes hopeful, and definitely worth a read.
Have you read How Not To Disappear? What did you think? Or do you want to read it? Let me know in the comments below!