Don't Let Me Go is set in LA, where 10 year old Grace lives with her drug addict mum in a run down area. The inhabitants of her appartment block are folk who keep themselves to themselves, not wishing to engage in a neighbourly way (par for the course these days!). When Grace is in danger of being taken into care, she decides to enlist the help of this motley crew to get her mum clean but how can she break down emotional barriers which her neighbours have taken a lifetime to build?
This book really surprised me as I initially thought I'd find it too saccharine - lilac coloured covers tend to influence me, in a negative way! I also thought that Grace would be an overbearing, irritating character who would drive me mad. So much for first impressions....within a few pages, I was hooked and dragged headfirst into the story. Each and every character is fully fleshed and each one has their own foibles and flaws, just like the rest of us. It's more than the story of Grace and her crusade, it's about their own personal battles. Billy Shine, reclusive on a par with Howard Hughes, gradually emerges from his shell. Rayleen, who has had her own history with child protection, knows that she and her neighbours are Grace's last hope but it won't be an easy ride.
Don't Let Me Go is an extremely readable, colourful, feel-good tale which will give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside without overdosing on the twee factor. A perfect antidote to the dark Autumn evenings!
on 27 September 2011
Initially, I struggled to really get a feel for Don't Let Me Go. However, after 10 or so pages, once I'd bedded myself in, I got lost in the book. It's the kind of novel that makes you think. It's the kind of novel that makes you happy. I know that probably sounds strange - after all, Grace is living with a drug-addicted mother so her life is hardly a bed of roses, and then there's Billy Shine who's never left his apartment for over 12 years. But the spirit of the novel and the way it's written is just amazing. I felt as if I was a part of the block of apartments where Grace lived, where Billy lived, where Rayleen, Felipe and Mrs Hinman lived.
The community spirit and the way in which Grace changes her neighbours lives made me smile. Grace is the most boisterous and fun-loving 10-year-old you'll ever fictionally meet. Despite the fact her life isn't perfect, she makes the best of it. She's clever, she's brave and she's infectious. The way she inveigles herself into the lives of her neighbours, mostly Billy, but also Rayleen Felipe and Mrs Hinman is something to behold. It goes to show that four total strangers can band together to try and help a kid not end up another statistic in the system. Because there are genuinely people like that in the world and it's spirit like that that makes you believe there is good in a world that's continually filled with bad. Grace really made the book. She just bowls everyone else away and she's like the Tasmanian Devil the way she asserts herself and knows exactly what she has to do to get her mum clean.
The characters in Don't Let Me Go are amazing. I adored Grace. Seriously. Man, I want a kid like that. To make the best of a bad situation, to ask Billy to teach her to dance, to ask Felipe to teach her Spanish. She knew no bounds and it was a thrill to read. When I read the synopsis I did worry about Billy Shine, worrying he was a bit of a weirdo and although he is a bit weird (as Grace continually tells him), he's not a weirdo. He's just a man whose life was over-run by panic. Which happens. A lot. I felt sympathy for him, but never pity and Grace changes his life in ways no one - not even Billy - could imagine. I thought the motley crue of other neighbours was a perfect mix. Rayleen, who's like a substitute mother for Grace; Felipe, who happily teaches Grace Spanish; Mrs Hinman, who makes Grace clothes. Even Mr Lafferty, who buys Grace the wood she needs to learn to dance at Billy's. They all form a little family for Grace, and there are no words for people like that, words are inadequate.
Despite it's slow start, I quickly got into Don't Let Me Go. I was wrapped up the entire time, wondering if Grace would succeed in her mission to get her mum clean, wondering what would happen to Grace, who certainly didn't deserve to end up in the system. I felt so connected to the plot, to the characters. This novel would make an insanely good film. I very much would recommend Don't Let Me Go, it's right on par with When I Found You, which is my favourite Catherine Ryan Hyde novel so far. Grace and Billy's stories will have you entranced and Grace will crawl right into your heart and not let go - not that you'll want her to. Catherine Ryan Hyde really knows how to tell a story, I mean she's a genius and Don't Let Me Go is Catherine Ryan Hyde at her utter best. It was a magnificent read and I'm already wondering when I'll read it again. Because I miss Grace. Already.
on 7 March 2013
This was the first book I have read by Catherine, however, it definitely won't be the last!
I have never experienced so many different, thought provoking emotions whilst reading a story, all of which left me not wanting to leave the book, even though finishing it in one sitting was never going to happen!
With a cast of so few and such disparate and marginalised characters, Catherine has woven their individual stories together, to form them into a cohesive and strong single unit, which learns from its own mistakes how to work together towards a common goal, despite their obvious individual prejudices, disadvantages and deviances, anyone of which, I had to firmly keep reminding myself, could have easily caused Grace so much harm. When I had finished reading, I felt that Catherine had created characters who I really wanted to care about and empathise with, such was the amount of life she had breathed into them and how much their individual lives appeared to have been enriched by the whole experience.
The story highlights the strength of the human spirit, when it is moved by someone, or something, which is perceived to be weaker and have less of a voice, than they themselves do. In this case, it is someone as innocent and unobtrusive, as one small child, a lone voice desperately trying to make itself heard in the crowd, emitting her `silent scream', in the hope that someone, anyone, will hear her.
Grace knows that the only way she will hopefully get noticed, is not by sitting in her apartment with her doped up mother, but by being out on the street, where she is visible and someone may actually work out that she is in trouble and needs help. With an astuteness way beyond her small number of years, she has however, worked out that she needs to enlist the help and support of the local community, as she doesn't want to be taken into care and separated from her mother and she realises that all the help groups are not enough to keep them together and support them. Grace has to find a way to make her mother change, because she realises that deep down, her mother really does love her and wants to do her best by her daughter, but she is going to need a sharp, short shock, to bring this home and Grace is strong enough for both of them and is willing to go all the way, to make this happen.
For one so young and naive, Grace is remarkably perceptive, both to her own and other people's needs and failings. It doesn't take her long to work out, that if she wants them to help her win her mother round, then she must give the group something in return and this, as an achievable gift, is going to be her, just being herself. Through simple acts of pleasure and kindness taken, received and shared, remarkably, Grace turns the lives of several lonely adults, upside down and inside out. After being on the end of her acerbic wit and sometimes harsh, but nonetheless accurate observations, they find themselves doing things which, to them, didn't seem possible and which they never thought they could achieve and whilst not all of the group can be together in Grace's final moments of triumph, they all have a pivotal role to play in the getting there.
When it is time for them all to move on with their individual lives, it is as lifelong friends, stronger people, maybe still not living the perfect life, but all changed for the better, by one infectious, courageous and often outrageous little girl, who enriched the lives of them all.
The book left me thinking anew about the ever increasing number of child carers we seem to accept as part of the norm in our modern society. We like to try and convince ourselves that these children are only playing a minor role in the overall care of a family member, or friend, when the reality of the situation is far from this and many children are in fact, the only, or primary carers in a family. We try to justify these facts and figures, by convincing ourselves that the children don't mind, when in fact the reverse is often true, only the child is frightened to speak out, for fear that the only solution which the social services and authorities seem able to invoke, is to separate families and take the child into the care of the system. All many of them are desperately searching and indeed, longing for, is to be given a voice and practical help from the authorities, so that the family can stay together, allowing the child to be ... just that, just sometimes!!
As the book was a competition win, this print copy was donated and sent to me by the organiser, Nikki-Ann at `Notes Of Life' , free of charge.
This in no way influenced any comments I may have expressed about the book, in any blog article I have posted. Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article.
I personally do not agree with `rating' a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a 4 out of 5.