The ACB with Honora Lee by Kate De Goldi (Tundra Books, 2012; originally published in New Zealand) focuses on a child’s relationship with her grandmother, who suffers from dementia. Perry is an only child, and I love how her budding relationship with Gran teaches her parents a bit about priorities, family, love, and friendship.
Perry’s parents overschedule her days, so when her mother finds a weekly lesson canceled and she struggles to find a replacement class, Perry knows just want she wants to do. She wants to visit her grandmother in her nearby nursing home each week. Her parents are not sure: does Perry understand that Honora Lee cannot remember from day to day? Nevertheless, they allow her to go.
As Perry visits weekly, she finds things that resonate with her grandmother: learning (since her gran was a tutor for much of her life), frustrations, and friendships that her grandmother cherishes still. She makes an ABC book for her grandmother with something to represent each letter that her grandmother loves.
Of course, since Gran has dementia, she cannot remember things and therefore the book is out of order and confusing, just like the lives of those living in the nursing home. The “ACB” that Perry creates is a perfect microcosm of the confused minds of the elderly.
The entire story is sad and lonely to some extent. An undercurrent of the book is the bumblebees that are dying. Perry gathers them in a jar and keeps the dead bees. She cannot bear to leave them lonely on the ground. By the end, the gentle novel ends with a happier, friendly delight. Perry has found peace. She has found her place. She can return the bumblebees to nature again.
Just as each time when she went to the nursing home she had to introduce herself, by the end, she knew a bit more about who she was and what made her that way. Although Perry’s Gran does not die, a different nursing home friend does die. This is all done tactfully and sweetly. Seeing the changes among the elderly in Santa Lucia nursing home helps Perry come to peace with herself. She finds she is not as lonely anymore.
The book as a whole is so tender that I felt near tears when I finished: it was so special to see how Perry’s friendship developed with Gran. When her father says something one day near the end, Perry can say “Gran always says that!” It seems highly possible that her father, too, has found some acceptance of his own mother.
The book is divided into “Before,” “Then”, and “After.” It takes place in New Zealand’s winter (June, July, and August). I may have missed a good deal of symbolism, but I read it for what it is on a single read. It is carefully written: precise. The author wove a gorgeous and tender story of the generations coming together. Ink and acrylic artwork also adds a sense of delightful elegance to the book as a whole. I love everything about this book!
I’d highly recommend it for the pensive young reader who enjoys a character-driven story.