Spastic, Mongol, Retarded ... all words that used to be bandied about quite innocently back in the seventies when I was a child, even in official circles, but that nobody would dream of saying these days because they seem really offensive. Go back a couple more decades and things were even worse, with parents strongly encouraged to institutionalise their children with Down's Syndrome, forced sterilisation and even the Nazis shipping any "mentally deficient" people off to concentration camps. Such was the world that Edie Maloney was born into, but her family disregarded the doctors with their "helpful advice" and gave her the best life they could in 1950's Morecambe. The official letters, criticising the family for refusing to have her institutionalised and using terminology that sounds extremely patronising and insulting, are hard to read but undoubtedly realistic for the time.
Fast forward to modern times and Len and Steph, who both have Down's, have a comparatively charmed life, working in the Sea View Lodge guest house, which focuses on welcoming groups of people with learning disabilities throughout the year, dreaming of getting married and living a relatively normal life with care workers who have their best interests at heart.
The central character of the story, and the thread that ties all the different people and time periods together, is Maeve, owner of the Sea View Lodge, godmother of Steph and twin sister of Edie. As the "lucky" twin with no disabilities, her life should have been happier and stress-free, but she had her fair share of troubles, from guilt at not being able to protect her sister to her unhappy love life. As the story shifts constantly between past and present, we piece together the tragic youth of both Maeve and Edie, their missed chances and unfulfilled dreams. But what if it's not too late and, even in her eighties, Maeve can finally find her happy ending?
Despite the poignant look at how disabled people were treated in the past and the tragic destiny of both Edie and Maeve, it remains an ultimately uplifting and positive book with life lessons for us all. The fact that the author draws on her own autistic sister for inspiration imbues the whole novel with compassion, tenderness and a level of understanding that make it into a beautiful work that can't fail to move you.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £8.99
Disclosure : I received the book in order to write an honest review.