Toffee

Toffee
Written by Sarah Crossan
Verse, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Published June 17th 2019
400 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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★★★★☆
I am not who I say I am.
Marla isn't who she thinks she is.
I am a girl trying to forget.
Marla is a woman trying to remember.

Allison has run away from home and with nowhere to live finds herself hiding out in the shed of what she thinks is an abandoned house. But the house isn't empty. An elderly woman named Marla, with dementia, lives there and she mistakes Allison for an old friend from her past called Toffee.

Allison is used to hiding who she really is, and trying to be what other people want her to be. And so, Toffee is who she becomes. After all, it means she has a place to stay. There are worse places she could be.

But as their bond grows, and Allison discovers how much Marla needs a real friend, she begins to ask herself, where is home? What is a family? And most importantly, who am I, really?
Allison Daniels is searching for a place to stay, discovering what she believes is a vacant outbuilding on an abandoned property to rest her weary body. Compelled to find her former stepmother and the only person who understands the abusive and adverse environment inflicted upon Allison, her meagre possessions are stolen and determined not to return to her abusive father, seeks shelter on the dilapidated property.

Allison is a family violence survivor, her father a neglectful and abusive man since the passing of his wife moments after delivering Allison. As a child, Allison learnt to become independent from a young age and through parental neglect, begun caring for her father and the household. In a series of revolving partners, it was Kelly Anne who befriended Allison while dating her father, soon becoming a companion and confidant for Allison. Unable to withstand the abuse and manipulation, Kelly Anne abandons the family home and Allison, who now endures the constant anger of her father. Her experience is profoundly resonating and I empathised with Allison and the anguish family violence inflicts upon victims.

Marla is an elderly woman with dementia and owns the neglected property. Lonely and confused, she mistakes Allison for her childhood friend Toffee and despite Allison insisting otherwise, she understands the fragility of Marla's condition and allows her to believe she's the childhood companion Marla desperately needs. Marla is representative of our elderly communities, the forgotten and often neglected members of society. Marla is a dementia patient and although she experiences moments of clarity, she regresses to a simpler time, reminiscent of her years as a sprightly young woman. I can imagine Marla as a confident and flirtatious young woman and in her moments of clarity, she's incredibly joyous and endearing. As the narrative progresses, we're introduced to her carer who is seemingly only interested in performing a elemental service, her son is abusive, degrading Marla and creating an environment where Marla is agitated and frightened.

Throughout the narrative, Allison and Marla become friends and although at times Marla is bewildered at the new living arrangements, they begin to care and cherish one another's company. My heart ached for Marla and I could sympathise with Allison's decision to allow Marla to believe she was her once childhood friend. Marla seemingly felt more at ease and it allowed her to become the spirited and adventurous young woman she once was. Toffee also encourages the discussion of themes rarely referenced in young adult literature, dementia, the negligent attitude towards the senior members of our communities, abuse, abandonment and impoverishment. 

Poignant, compelling and achingly beautiful, Toffee is a delicate and tender verse narrative of compassion and companionship. Essential reading.

17 comments

  1. Oh my goodness! This sounds so moving! Thank you for sharing.

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    1. It's phenomenal Kristin, so incredibly poignant. I'd love to see what you think of it!

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  2. Ack. This sounds like a difficult read. I love that she found someone to ease her loneliness some. <3

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    1. I love stories of found family and it was lovely and gentle Joy, one of those books that'll stay with me for some time to come.

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  3. This book was one that really hit me in the heart.
    My heart ached for Marla so often.
    I wanted to tell her son off, too, for being such a butt. And tell her carer to actually, you know, care for her.
    Your review is so beautifully eloquent.

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    1. Thanks Star. Such an incredibly poignant narrative wasn't it. She's a remarkable author, so few words with such an incredible impact.

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    1. Thank you so much, I hope you can pick up a copy soon. I would love to see what you think of it!

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  5. Lots of heartbreak up there, but I love the idea of the young woman befriending Marla. I also like that there are some topics that we don't often see in YA books, because I am sure they may be relevant to quite a few teens.

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    1. So many families live in multigenerational households nowadays and it's narrative that I think will resonate with a lot of readers and those who care for older family members. I think you'll really enjoy this one, so incredibly moving.

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  6. This sounds like such an emotional read and a beautiful one as well.

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    1. It's beautiful Suzanne, one of my favourite reads this year.

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  7. Even though I'm not a big fan of books in verse, this story sounds so wonderful! Allison's background is heartbreaking but I love the sound of the friendship with she and Marla.

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    1. Verse novels can be an acquired taste but the difference with a Sarah Crossan verse novel is the writing. It's incredibly fluid and seamless. I'd recommend giving this one a read, I think you'll really enjoy it.

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  8. I've always been a little put off Sarah Crossan books simply because a book in verse sounds like something I wouldn't like but you make this book sound so good. I honestly am struggling to come up with reasons not read this one.

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    1. Her verse novels are incredible, so impactful. Verse can be a little overwhelming but that's not something I notice with Sarah Crossan's books, they flow so beautifully.

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  9. Definitely sounds like an intense read, but I think I'd really love it. I want to read more books in verse - they can be very beautiful. It sounds like both Allison and Marla have been through a lot, and I like that - despite a big age difference - they can be a comfort and solace for each other despite the abuse they've both faced (and still face, in the instance of Marla). Thanks for the lovely review!

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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