Monday, May 16, 2011

Island Girl by Lynda Simmons

Island Girl by Lynda Simmons
448 pages
Published December 2010 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Ruby Donaldson has known she has Alzheimer's disease (or Big Al as she calls it) for a year but lately the disease has really begun to accelerate and it's time for Ruby to set things in order with her daughters.

Daughter Grace has a "mild intellectually delay" and, after a terrible tragedy two years ago, Ruby has brought Grace back to the island the family has lived on for three generations, an island in Toronto Harbor, so that Ruby can protect Grace. The only way to reach the island is by ferry; once there the only ways to get around are by foot or bicycle and the residents of the chain of islands only number in the hundreds so it's an easy place to protect someone. But now Ruby needs to find someone to take care of Grace when she is gone. And she will, indeed, be gone. Ruby's plan is to commit suicide before the disease progresses too far.

Enter Ruby's oldest daughter, Liz. The tragedy that brought Grace back to the island, also tore Liz and Ruby apart. It also caused Liz to abandon her law career and sent her careening into alcoholism. When Ruby tracks down Liz and appeals to her to return to care for her sister, Liz wants none of it. She firmly believes that Grace should be allowed to live her own life and Liz is feed up with doing things Ruby's way.

Ruby has held her secret for a year. But when she seeks out one-time love, and father figure to her girls, Mark, things begin to happen in ways that Ruby could not have predicted.

When I was approached about reading and reviewing this one, I jumped at the chance, in no small part because Simmons is Canadian. This is a country that has given us Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables), Yann Martel (The Life of Pi), Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) and Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale). Any time I have a chance to discover a new Canadian author, I'm in.

Each of the women is well-developed and I enjoyed learning to like Ruby and Liz as the book progressed. At first I really didn't care for either of them and had a hard time understanding them. I really enjoyed the supporting cast of island inhabitants; they were just the kind of quirky group of characters that I enjoy.

While there was much in Island Girl that I liked, ultimately I felt as if Simmons may have tried to do too much in this book. The story is told in alternating first-person narratives from Ruby, Liz and Grace and each of the women has much more going on than just the story line of dealing with Ruby's Alzheimer's diagnosis. Although I understood that Simmons purpose with these story lines was to develop each character, I think I would have enjoyed the book more if it had concentrated more on the relationship between the women and about the progression of Ruby's disease.
"The memory blanks have been coming more frequently lately, lasting longer. Before the diagnosis, I'd shrug and put it down to menopause or overwork. Convince myself that losing my keys a half dozen times a day was perfectly normal. And hadn't everyone put the toaster in the freezer at least once? Now, of course, I knew the truth. The sad and ugly truth. And the color of that bill would haunt me until I got home. Or until I forgot, whichever came first."
There is a lot about this book that would make it a great book club selection: family dynamics, the choices that we make in regard to our health and lives, progress (Ruby is an rabid activist against a nearby airport), and the rights of the mentally challenged. And that ending--that ending will definitely have people talking!

To learn more about Simmons and her books, check out her website.


  1. I like the family dynamics part of your description. I doubt it being available in this part of the world but would like to read it if I could.

  2. This one sounds too sad. =O( I'm scared of Alzheimer's...for myself and especially for my parents and husband. I liked your honest review though!

    I see you're reading Brooklyn. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts. I don't have that one, but I have other titles by him and I need to pick that one up as well.

  3. Well, I sure love a good ending, and this does sound like a great pick for a book club with a lot to chew on! Thank you so much for being on the tour for Island Girl.

  4. I'm interested in this book because of Ruby's Alzheimers, a disease which upsets and mystifies me and which my grandmother had, fortunately much later in life than poor Ruby. This book sounds like it's very ambitious particularly with a life-changing tragedy that really messed up Ruby's family. It also sounds as if the several story-lines don't quite come together but I like the idea of the quirky characters and I'm intrigued that Ruby and Liza eventually won you over. I'd also like to know, now, if Ruby got what she wanted/hoped for and was able to final focus on herself with an easy mind.

    You hooked me on this book with your review! And you make a very good point about Canadian authors. I'd add Camilla Gibb to your list, too.

  5. I just kind of breezed through to see what you thought of the book since I'll be reading it soon. I'll pop back when I'm done. I'm anxious to read this one.

  6. I want to read it now just for the ending!!!

  7. I also will be reviewing this book soon, and am really excited about it. I am glad to see your review and hear your thoughts on it. It promises to be an interesting, if maybe a bit uneven read for me.

  8. Oh I just loved this book. I honestly liked it better because it focused on all three and not just on Ruby and her diagnosis. I think if it had just been from Ruby's perspective I would have been bored and tired of Ruby. I needed the broader perspective of her daughters.

    How about that ending! I agree, great book club selection.

  9. I'm interested in the relationship between the the mother and the two daughters, especially the tension caused by Grace's needs. Your review makes me want to read this one to find out the ending! Meanwhile, some of your other reviews also tempt me to seek out those too!