Summary and book reviews of The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

The Things We Keep

by Sally Hepworth

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2017, 352 pages

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Book Summary

With honesty and true understanding, Sally Hepworth pens this poignant story of one of today's nightmares: early-onset Alzheimer's.

Anna Forster, in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease at only thirty-eight years old, knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to Rosalind House, an assisted living facility. She also knows there's just one other resident her age, Luke. What she does not expect is the love that blossoms between her and Luke even as she resists her new life at Rosalind House. As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to what she knows, including her relationship with Luke.

When Eve Bennett is suddenly thrust into the role of single mother she finds herself putting her culinary training to use at Rosalind house. When she meets Anna and Luke she is moved by the bond the pair has forged. But when a tragic incident leads Anna's and Luke's families to separate them, Eve finds herself questioning what she is willing to risk to help them.

1
Anna

Fifteen months ago …

No one trusts anything I say. If I point out, for example, that the toast is burning or that it's time for the six o'clock news, people marvel. How about that? It is time for the six o'clock news. Well done, Anna. Maybe if I were eighty-eight instead of thirty-eight, I wouldn't care. Then again, maybe I would. As a new resident of Rosalind House, an assisted-living facility for senior citizens, I'm having a new appreciation for the hardships of the elderly.

"Anna, this is Bert," someone says as a man slopes by on his walker. I've been introduced to half a dozen people who look more or less like Bert: old, ashen, hunched-over. We're on wicker lawn chairs in the streaming sunshine, and I know Jack brought me out here to make us both feel better. Yes, you're checking into an old folks' home, but look, it has a garden!

I wave to Bert, but my gaze is fixed across the lawn, where my five-year-old nephew, Ethan, is ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Things We Keep is told from the points of view of Eve, Anna, and Clem. How does this structure enhance your experience as a reader? How would this novel have been different had certain sections been omitted or told from a different point of view?
  2. Did you learn anything you didn't previously know about dementia while reading this novel?
  3. When Eve suggests to Angus that Anna and Luke are in love he says, "But even if they loved each other once, they can't really love each other now, can they? How can you love someone you don't remember?" Eric makes a similar argument, saying that people with dementia are incapable of falling in love. But Rosie says "Dementia steals things—memories, speech, other abilities. But I don'...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about The Things We Keep. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Did you find any incidents in this book unbelievable or confusing?
I wonder if Eve decided that she would throw caution to the wind. She had lived her life by the rules and it availed her nothing. Her husband was a criminal and a suicide, she had no friends, her daughter was bullied. Being "good" did not serve her ... - Frances

Did you learn anything you didn't previously know about dementia while reading this novel?
I also didn't know that dementia could start at such a young age, the type of dementia that Luke had, and that some people with dementia had a problem with depth perception. My dad had dementia but he was in his early 70's and didn't have the depth ... - louisee

Eve is unsettled when Rosie lies to Anna. Rosie replies, "We can make each moment frightening for her with the truth. Or we can lie...and make each moment happy..." What would you do? What would you want someone to do if you were Anna?
I understand how Eve could be upset about lying to Anna, but Rosie makes a good point. So much of an Alzheimer's sufferer's days are fraught with confusion and despair - why not give them comforting words when you can, since they won't remember them ... - susank

How do the multiple points of view enhance your experience as a reader? How would the novel have been different if some parts had been omitted or told from a different point of view?
I am finding that I often enjoy books with multiple points of views. It seems to allow me to get deeper into the landscape and emotions of the novel. In this book, I only wish that the author had allowed us into Luke's mindset a little, but, perhaps ... - susank

Is Anna's character believable? Did you feel sympathetic toward her?
It's nice when a book makes us feel better or confirms our experience. When a novel expands our experience and takes us into new places and new understanding, that is of deep value. Reading novels is said to be of great value in connecting us with ... - Frances

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

It's been a while since I've read something that I don't want to end. Great story about love, grief, and what we are willing to risk for others (Michele N.) Hepworth writes with compassion and understanding of the impact of this cruel disease on all who know and love the patients (Helen S.)   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review (817 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The story's nonlinear structure, designed to mimic Anna's disorientation, cleverly obscures a few reveals that color the reader's perception of the dilemma at hand, and while none of these reveals are particularly surprising, they're no less heartbreaking. A supporting cast of quirky old folks and Eve's precocious daughter add levity to a poignant and nuanced story.

Booklist

Although the story has a fairly upbeat ending, it could be a distressing read for anyone struggling with an Alzheimer's diagnosis either as a patient or as a caregiver.

Library Journal

Starred Review. While on the surface a sad, realistic portrayal of a heartbreaking disease, Hepworth's (The Secrets of Midwives) latest is much more. The story, told through the alternating voices of Anna, Eve, and Eve's young daughter, is nothing less than a poignant testament to the immeasurable and restorative power of love. Sure to appeal to fans of Jojo Moyes, Jodi Picoult, and Lisa Genova; book clubs will be lining up

Author Blurb Susan Wasson, Bookworks, Albuquerque, NM
A lovely, funny, novel that you won't soon forget and I am grateful that I have read it. It reminds us all that love and being with our loved ones is paramount to life. In the long run, what else matters more?

Author Blurb Marilyn Dahl, Editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers
Sally Hepworth deftly covers a lot of ground with The Things We Keep - bullying, Alzheimer's, elder care, romantic and parental love-with insight, compassion and wit. How I loved the characters ... I devoured this book.

Author Blurb Kristin Pidgeon, Penguin Bookshop
n the same class with Still Alice. I loved each of the characters in Rosalind House for their complexity and frustration with their ailments. Jack, Eve, Rosie, and even the teachers and mothers at Clementine's school clearly demonstrate that loving someone does not mean knowing what is best for that person. In fact, sometimes that love and the desire to protect can be the most damaging.

Author Blurb Nancy Simpson-Brice, The Book Vault
Sad in places, redemptive at times, joyous also, The Things We Keep begs to be read for its timeliness and authenticity. The discussion possibilities for book clubs seem endless.

Author Blurb Stephanie Crowe, Page and Palette
Hepworth weaves a fascinating narrative that draws the reader into a personal relationship with these characters. As we come to care about them we learn about the depth of compassion that humans feel for each other and the resilience of the human spirit.

Reader Reviews

Barb K

The Things We Keep
First I must tell you that this was a very difficult book for me to read. At my age if I succumb to dementia, it will not be Early Onset. Furthermore, I have relatives who have/had this horrible disease. Having said this, I am glad that I ...   Read More

Paula

Compassionate, realistic, complicated view of Alzheimer's
I enjoyed this book. Having worked with Alzheimer's patients in acute care, I found Hepworth's descriptions and portrayal of moral dilemmas to be accurate. How do we define mental competency? If you can't drive a car or keep a checkbook, does that ...   Read More

Wendyr

The Disease That Touches Us All
Very thought provoking book of early onset Alzheimer's and family decisions. Where is the line drawn between love and protection? How do you express your thoughts and feelings to the people you have given your trust to care for you, when you cannot ...   Read More

Jean N. (New Richmond, OH)

The Things We Keep
I enjoyed this book very much. I've never read anything about early on-set Alzheimers disease. Through Anna's first person story I really felt what it must be like to know that you are going to be steadily losing your memory and almost all that you ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Early-onset Alzheimer's

"Dementia in its varied forms is not like cancer, [which is] an invader. But Alzheimer's is me, unwinding, losing trust in myself, a butt of my own jokes and on bad days capable of playing hunt the slipper by myself and losing. You can't battle it, you can't be a plucky "survivor". It steals you from yourself."

This is author Terry Prachett, in a 2008 article for the Alzheimer's Society (reprinted by The Guardian in 2015). Pratchett wrote this shortly after he was diagnosed with posterior cortical atrophy or PCA (which depending on which specialist you talk to is either a form of Alzheimer's or closely related to it). It causes a deterioration of memory, plus a loss of visual acuity, but allows for retention of fluency and...

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