Nora Glass is a 44 year old single mother to Ellie, the teenaged daughter who has been the frequent subject of her writings for many years. Her life isn't perfect but it is generally happy. Her twin sister Mariana is in a good relationship and the meditation app she's designed is taking off so she's on the verge of shedding her reputation as the screw-up sister. Nora's next door neighbor Nick has always been a good friend to both Nora and Ellie and he's teetering on the verge of something more. But she's started to notice that her memory isn't what it used to be and despite figuring that it is nothing, these lapses send her to the doctor's office, where she gets the life altering diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease. She doesn't know how to tell the people she loves about this death sentence and she can't even begin to imagine how to tie up the loose ends in her life. Who will take care of Ellie? Certainly not Ellie's uninvolved and essentially worthless father. Mariana has a history of having to be bailed out by Nora the perfectionist so how can she possibly take over as the responsible adult in the teenaged Ellie's life? And what on earth will Mariana do without her sister as a safety net? All of these questions consume Nora, even after she has told her sister, her daughter, and Nick about the grim prognosis she's facing.
As much as this is a novel about a woman struggling with a devastating disease, it is also a novel about love and family. Nora and Mariana have an especially close relationship as twins. Ellie feels left out of her mother's world, assuming that there's only room for two in it and that that the second person is Mariana, not her. And Ellie is not only dealing with these feelings of exclusion and the idea of losing her mother, she's also dealing with everything that goes along with being a sixteen and seventeen year old girl in her first relationship and thinking about leaving for college as well. The moments where each of the three women are unguarded and honest are touching and highlight their deep bonds with each other. Herron has drawn the changes in Nora, the way her personality has changed, the anger and frustration, the small losses that add up to something much greater and scarier, and the encroaching fear of it all, very well. Nora and Ellie's mother daughter dynamic is equal parts contentious and close. There are some parts of their relationship that don't ring entirely true (like Ellie texting her mother to tell her she's going to have sex) for most mother daughter relationships though. The twin plot line is definitely an important one but it is a bit clichéd to draw twins as more connected to each other than anyone else. In fact, it helps the plot a lot when Nora is forced to reconcile to the idea that she might not know her sister quite like she thought. The thread with Nick is eventually dropped as the relationship between the three Glass women is meant to be the central piece of the novel but it was enough of an issue throughout the book that it is a little frustrating to have it ignominiously ignored in the end. All of the characters are very much in their own heads and very emotional, as would be expected of people trying to process what all of this means, but their feelings start to become repetitious and the book feels a tad overlong, with the sharp, distressing edges of EOAD worn off and smoothed away just as on the pieces of beach glass that reoccur throughout the novel. In the end, the book isn't so much about dying as it is about hope and holding onto it tightly for the ones you love more than anything else in the world no matter how short the future is.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review as a part of a blog tour.