Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: Island Girl by Lynda Simmons

Haven't we all walked into a room and wondered what in the heck we needed to find in there? Set car keys down and couldn't remember where on earth they might be? Spaced out about an appointment or meeting? Searched our minds for a common word that is just on the tip of our tongue and yet irretrievable in the moment? For most of us, busy as we are, these are isolated events and nothing to worry about. For some people though, these are the first manifestations of something so much worse.

Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, Ruby Donaldson knows she has a limited amount of time to organize and tie up the loose endings of her life before she is lost in the fog of the especially aggressive, early onset version of the disease. Ruby is a stubborn, fiesty, and independent woman who hates having to reach out for help but her new circumstances demand it. She has long had a combative relationship with her oldest daughter, Liz. But now she needs to make things right with Liz so that when the time comes (and Ruby has no intention of letting Alzheimer's, aka Big Al, steal her away, plotting to take herself out long before that time comes), her younger daughter, the beautiful but intellectually delayed Grace, will be able to hold onto the family's home on an island a short ferry ride from Toronto, the only place Grace feels safe.

Ruby is prickly and cantankerous and she has spent a lifetime pushing people away. The Donaldson women have been famed for their strength and their eccentricities for as long as they've owned the island home and Ruby lives up to the reputation in spades. But after a year with insidious Alzheimer's and recognizing its more frequent incursions into her daily life, she reaches out to her old boyfriend, Mark, to ask for his help in finding her oldest daughter, from whom she is estranged. This first step towards connection and reconnection will change everything. Liz was once a brilliant lawyer but is now a wreck of an alcoholic, one who clings desperately to her anger and bitterness towards her mother refusing to let Ruby's diagnosis change her feelings in any way. She is consumed with rage and unhappiness but she still makes time to see her little sister every week behind their mother's back. Grace is lovely and childlike and there is a tragedy in her past that makes her unwilling to break out, even in small ways, from Ruby's stifling overprotectiveness. She is incapable of leaving the island, content to work in Ruby's beauty shop from the ground floor of the home that has been in their family for generations.

Told in the alternating voices of the three Donaldson women, Ruby, Liz, and Grace, this is not just a sad story of a strong woman fighting with every ounce of her being against this terrible disease, it is also the story of healing a divided family and looking to the future. The characters are fully developed, flawed, and believable. The obstacles that they have to overcome are mostly those they have created themselves and so the reader can sympathize with the difficulty they each face in trying to change themselves and come together before it's too late. There are many different plot threads weaving through the book and while this can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, it is also the true and messy reality of life. Each of the plot lines is also important not only to fully flesh out the characters, but to help the reader understand all of the challenges they face and to show how this family came to the place they find themselves now.

The main story, though, remains Ruby's. Simmons has done a lovely job capturing the small coping mechanisms that Ruby has developed and uses them well to illustrate Ruby's deterioration even as she puts up a valiant fight in her unwinnable war. Despite the obvious family dysfunction, Simmons has also managed to skillfully weave love and caring through the hurt and anger and secrets pulsing between her headstrong characters leaving room for hope. A lighter, more humorous novel than I would have expected, I quite enjoyed my time with the Donaldsons, rooting for them to heal within, to find the strength to change what they needed to change while remaining true at the core, and to be able to come together in the end.

For more information about Lynda Simmons and the book visit her webpage, her Facebook page, and read her blog. You can also read an excerpt of the book to get a taste of it for yourself.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Thoroughly enjoyed your review, I think I'd like this one, it's going straight on my wishlist :)

  2. Really good review. Thanks so much for being on the tour, Kristen!


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