Don't Let Me Go (by Catherine Ryan Hyde)

I’ve very much enjoyed the handful of novels I’ve read by Catherine Ryan Hyde; they’re character-driven thoughtful women’s fiction with plots a little different from the norm. I’ve put a few others on my wishlist and was given this one for my birthday nearly a year ago. I decided to read it a few days ago, and then could barely put it down!

‘Don’t Let me Go’ is mainly about ten-year-old Grace, with alternate chapters are written from her viewpoint. She’s a likeable, determined little girl, but seriously neglected. Her father is not in the picture, her mother an addict. It could be a sordid story, but it’s not. Grace and her mother live on the ground floor of a block of flats, where the residents are all suspicious of each other; it takes a child’s needs to help them pull together.

The other main character is Billy, an agoraphobic ex-dancer who hasn’t been outside his apartment for a long time. Nobody else in the block has seen him. But he spots Grace sitting outside on her own, and despite himself he knows he has to do something to help. So he plucks up courage and starts to speak to her…

The blurb on the novel says that it’s about helping Grace’s mother return to normality by taking Grace away from her, but I felt it was just as much about the importance of people learning to trust and look out for each other. Billy’s neighbour in the apartment building is Rayleen, a young woman who is determined to keep Grace away from social services. Gradually we learn some of her story, but it’s in hints and implications rather than too much detail.

Billy, too, has an interesting past; we learn about him gradually through the chapters narrated from his viewpoint. The other residents of the flat are an elderly widowed lady, with some health problems, a young man who’s willing to help wherever possible, and another who is brusque, even rude on the surface; yet he has a generous side, although he too has some dark secrets.

There are some quite heavy issues covered; perhaps too little is made of the horrors of Grace’s mother’s abuse, and her recovery too easy. In a sense the plot is somewhat idealised and unrealistic but I don’t have a problem with that; I like escapism, and seeing the best side of human nature in fictional form. It’s not as if any of the characters is flawless; they’re impatient, irritable, often tired. Grace, too, is somewhat oblivious to other people’s needs, although she’s sensitive and surprisingly mature.

I’m writing this a couple of days after I finished it, yet the characters, their stories and most of their names are still with me. The writing is excellent, in my opinion; the pace just right, the different viewpoints enabling the story to be told from both a child’s and an adult’s perspective.

All in all, I thought this an excellent read and would recommend it highly to anyone who likes thoughtful character-based women's fiction.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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