Sunday, December 8, 2013

All That's Missing

All That's Missing, the new middle grade novel by author Sarah Sullivan, is a story of the evocative journey of eleven year-old Arlo who struggles to locate missing pieces in his family. When his increasingly forgetful grandfather named Poppo, Arlo's only caretaker, suddenly ends up in the hospital with a stroke and unconscious, Arlo becomes an orphan. The plot is set into motion.

His only hope of staying out of the clutches of the unsavory child protective service is to find his only surviving grandmother. He is ready to lie or steal to find her. Importantly, the novel is peopled with a mix of white and black characters who Arlo encounters on his journey. The local culture of this town in the Tidewater area seems authentic.

Just as characters with autism are showing up in children's literature, so is Alzheimers Disease.  The YA novel The Whole Stupid Way We Are Nicole Griffin and the picture book Grampa Monty's Muddles by Marta Zafrilla are two examples in this blog, and there are many more available. Like these other authors, Sullivan gets it right. Alzeimer's Disease begins slowly and progresses over years.  Memory loss is subtle at first. There are good days and bad days. Early on, there is a frightening awareness of the loss of mental capacity on the part of those afflicted. There is an attempt on their part to minimize and cover up. For example Arlo relates an instance when Poppo becomes confused:

This past July, they'd been on their way home from the grocery store when Poppo came to a halt in the middle of an intersection.

"It's this way, isn't it?" he asked.

"No, Poppo, left, towards school," Arlo said. "Then right at the post office."

"Sure," Poppo said. "What was I thinking?"

Arlo hadn't liked the look on his grandfather's face, as if he were lost or, worse yet, frightened. 

Arlo is familiar with loss and deprivation. Both his parents have been dead since he was two. He lives a sparse existence with his Grandfather.  But his is not an emotionally deprived life. There is a deep connection between the two. With Poppo's failing, the stakes are high for Arlo. Who will love him as Poppo has? How he survives is a rewarding read.

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