Review | Gone but Still Here, by Jennifer Dance

Gone but still hereGone but Still Here is a moving and emotional story about a family whose matriarch has dementia. The story is told through multiple perspectives: the matriarch Mary, her daughter Kayla whom Mary moves in with, Kayla’s teenage son, and their golden retriever Sage.

The main through thread of the plot has to do with a memoir Mary is writing, urged on by the spirit of her deceased husband, and the struggles they faced as an interracial couple (the husband is Black) amidst the racism of the 1960s and 1970s. Mary’s love story is heartwarming, and it’s utterly heartbreaking to see the moments when her lucidity fades. At times in chapters told from Mary’s perspective, we see her confusion as a younger woman (Kayla, whom Mary doesn’t recognize) gets teary-eyed over some story from long ago, and it’s heart-wrenching because we know Mary doesn’t realize everything that story actually represents.

The scenes narrated by Sage add a welcome touch of levity to the novel, especially as Sage (ineffectively) battles Mary’s cat for household supremacy. Yet Sage’s side of the story also provides deeper insight into various characters’ vulnerabilities. For example, she notices how Kayla, who’s the alpha of the house, seems to give up her alpha status when Mary moves in, or when her son complains about some of the changes in their lives. Sage also feels confused why Mary keeps calling her by a different name (a dog from Mary’s childhood), yet instinctively knows when Mary needs a bit of comfort.

I’m about two-thirds through this book (page 220) and am tapping out. I’m DNF-ing it not because it’s a bad book or badly written — on the contrary, the writing is beautiful, and the story packs an emotional wallop without ever feeling maudlin. However, it’s just not the kind of book I want to read right now. I need happy, light-hearted stories that make me feel good, or pulse-racing thrillers that keep me breathless. There are definitely moments of joy in Gone but Still Here, and the story itself tackles perhaps one of the most life-changing adventures that unfortunately will affect many readers’ lives. But it’s a tad too much reality for me, so I’m tapping out, but I’ll definitely highly recommend this book if you’re in the mood for that particular form of emotional catharsis and transcendence from your fiction.

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Thank you to Dundurn Press of a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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