by Ishbel Moore

Published by Kids Can Press

216 pages, 1999

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Reality Without Device

Reviewed by Monica Stark


There are a lot of challenges in creating fiction for young adults. Special challenges. As with other types of fiction, there must be a strong plot and a good story, of course. There must be believable characters. It's not enough for dialog to sound real: it must also sound like it might be spoken by real teenagers. And since teenagers are bright, savvy young adults, any moral tale that's included must have a real point and a real relationship to the story.

Ishbel Moore's Daughter succeeds on all counts. Fourteen-year-old Sylvie must deal with her mother's rapidly accelerating Alzheimer disease. A charming, well-paced story, Daughter is warm, engaging and bittersweet. Sylvie is a likable though confused character and her confusion manifests itself in her life in a very real way.

In the opening passages, we meet both Sylvie and her mother, involved in a life-and-death moment.

"Mom! What are you doing? get down from there!"

I slam the door, drop my back-pack and rush across the living room.

One of mom's feet is curled over the tenth floor balcony railing, the other is tiptoe on the top of the small stepladder. One hand is around the chain of the empty hanging basket. The screw that holds the basket is coming loose from its plastic socket in the ceiling. I can see the crumbling white dust.

As the story begins, Sylvie is perplexed by her mother's increasingly strange behavior. She's given a stress leave from her job because she's lost the ability to cope. She loses the ability to tell time or do simple sums. After a while, she sometimes doesn't even remember Sylvie's name and refers to her simply as "Daughter."

On some subconscious level, her mother's behavior pushes Sylvie to act out. She trades in the comfy clothes she's worn throughout school for tighter ones. She begins to wear more make-up and starts going to parties with a different and more worldly group of friends. She begins paying less attention to her schoolwork and her grades drop and she cuts out of her piano lessons altogether.

Moore's handling of this transition in Sylvie is delightful and absolutely real. There is no heavy-handed drawing of connections between her mother's at first inexplicable behavior and Sylvie's own changing. Instead, the two stories unfold side-by-side as though they're not connected.

While some young readers might recognize themselves or their friends, that understanding would never come from Moore's prodding, because she doesn't. Moore has Sylvie tell the story in a simple, sequential way that allow her readers to draw their own conclusions.

Refreshingly, the introduction of early-onset Alzheimer isn't a device to teach young readers something that the writer feels they should know. It's a storyline and an interesting one. It's also sad, because -- of course -- there's no way back for Sylvie's mom. Sylvie herself, however, has a lot of lessons to learn along the way about her strengths as well as the human frailties that we all must discover. | December 1999


MONICA STARK is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and editor.