I devoured Jennifer Dance’s latest book.

I was hooked from the first sentence: “My name is Mary, and I have Alzheimer’s disease,” and my interest and desire to learn more about Mary, Keith and the rest of the characters never waned.

Gone but still here is about Mary who is living with dementia. When we first meet her, Mary is writing her memoir, the untold story of the love of her life who died more than 40 years earlier. As the disease progresses, we see Mary getting more and more confused, living in the past – often with joy, but also with fear and sorrow.

Each chapter flips between perspectives, one chapter we are Mary, who trembles in fear when the news comes on of a racial attack, the next we are Kayla, Mary’s daughter who is her mom’s main caregiver as her siblings live far away. We also see through the eyes of Jesse, Kayla’s teenaged son who isn’t pleased his grandmother is moving in with them. One of my favourite characters is Sage, the family’s aging golden retriever. While wise, Sage is a dog, acts like dog and thinks like a dog, or at least what we think a dog may think like. I loved Sage. She was loyal, always hungry and frustrated the uprights never got it.

Each character was unique and real – you could imagine these people, the situation and the feelings being true.

Likely because there are – at least in some ways.

In her author’s note, Jennifer says gone but still here is her memoir. Mary is based on her teenaged self from the 1960s and ‘70s. Jennifer married “across the colour line,” marrying Keith who was later attacked by skinheads. He died from complications from that attack, leaving Jennifer to raise her children alone (she had two and was pregnant with her third). Her second life partner, Feroze, is living with Alzheimer’s disease and “his words, actions, and fears (come) to life in Mary.” Jennifer was also able to get inside the head of Mary with her own diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, the stress of being Feroze’s caregiver exacerbating the symptoms.

Despite the sadness in the book, the book isn’t depressing or uncomfortable to read – just the opposite in fact. Gone but still here is much like the dementia journey – there is sadness and worry, but there is also joy, laughter, and love.

Gone but still here is from Dundurn Press and retails for $21.99.

A copy of gone but still here is courtesy of Dundurn Press for an honest review. The opinions are my own.

Writer’s note: I have had the privilege of meeting Jennifer Dance and sharing her story many times when I worked at the Alzheimer Society of York Region. I also had the honour of reading an earlier draft of the book, way back when it was written for young people told from the perspective of Sage. Like this one, that earlier draft pulled me in, impressive in itself as it was a PDF, and I don’t read books on a screen.

While I love Jennifer’s work (I loved Hawk and enjoyed Red Wolf), my opinion of gone but still here isn’t based on friendship, but rather because it is a fantastic book – I laughed out loud, cried and was left wanting to know more. While Mary’s ending is guaranteed – there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and everyone who has it will die from it – I would love to learn more about Mary’s story. We will learn more. Jennifer has agreed to participate in a Q&A on Book Time. Read the interview.