Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for Island Girl
Ruby Donaldson is fifty-five years old. A year ago, she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Her physician prescribed medication in an attempt to slow the disease’s progress but, sadly, it has not been effective. She is presented with the reality of her situation and advised that she needs to change her life, giving up her independence and incorporating caregivers. But Ruby is not going to sit back and allow “Big Al,” as she calls it, take over her life and change the person she has always been. She plans to take affirmative action before she becomes completely lost in the fog that Big Al intermittently dispatches to enfold and discombobulate her.
Ruby’s oldest daughter, Liz, has been estranged from her mother for several years. After one extremely personal case ended disastrously, at least from Liz’s perspective, her career as a respected attorney disintegrated as she became an increasingly heavy drinker. Now she spends her days hungover and underemployed as a food server.
Meanwhile, Grace, the youngest, lives at home on Ward’s Island, accessible only via a ten-minute ferry ride from Toronto. Grace has not left the island for several years, instead remaining where she feels safe and secure, assisting her mother with the salon, Chez Ruby, Ruby operates in their home. Grace is thirty years old and described by Liz as “slow.” For a time, Grace lived with Liz in the city, but a tragedy and the legal aftermath sent her back home to reside with Ruby.
As the story opens, Ruby heads into Toronto to pay a visit to her former live-in boyfriend, Mark, at his law firm office. She has been informed that her condition is worsening and she needs his help. She wants him to convince Liz to return home, reconcile with her, and look after Grace. The trouble is, once Ruby arrives at Mark’s office, she can’t remember why she went there.
Island Girl a compelling, intriguing, and intensely emotional story of three women facing the greatest challenges of their lives whose complex relationships and histories impact the way they interact with each other and deal with problems.
Ruby has always been strong, independent, and outspoken. She has been protesting the airport’s presence on their little island on a regular basis for a couple of decades, raised her girls largely on her own when her relationships with their fathers did not work out, and has supported herself and her children over the years by being a savvy entrepreneur. She is used to having things her own way and in her own time. And that’s just one of the reasons why the Alzheimer’s diagnosis is so devastating. The disease is gradually wresting control over her own life away from her. And Ruby is determined not to go into the dark night quietly to a place where others will have to meet all of her daily needs for her, leading her from place to place for reasons known only to them. When her physician suggests that she visit a support group, she is appalled at the way the leader places his own wife on display, showing video clips that depict the woman performing tricks the way a trained dog might. Ruby enlightens the other members of the group with her outrage before stomping out of the meeting, never to return. That scene alone is worth reading Island Girl. It will have readers cheering for Ruby, her spirit, and her refusal to surrender the one thing she can still maintain some control over: Her dignity.
Liz is much like her mother. Stubborn, determined, opinionated, rebellious, but witty. In fact, her acknowledgment of the traits she has in common with her mother have forced her to run away and refuse to interact with Ruby. Liz believes that Ruby has exhibited too much control over Grace, even to the point of convincing her to enter into an agreement that irrevocably altered the course of Grace’s future. Liz is tormented by what happened, largely because of the “what if?” that will forever remain unanswered. Liz sees Grace as capable of accomplishing more than Ruby will give Grace credit for. The two girls have remained close, meeting on the island every Thursday for a picnic without Ruby’s knowledge. But Liz has self-destructed in the wake of the family tragedy and subsequent events that pulled them apart. She is an alcoholic, spiraling further and further out of control. Can she regain her confidence and save herself?
Grace is determined to please her mother, but at thirty years of age, she has her own ideas about things. And needs some independence. She longs to expand the services Chez Ruby provides, but her mother won’t hear of it. She loves the business and enjoys satisfying her clients. She keeps her sorrow hidden away, and quietly accepts that her mother snoops at her computer (she deletes anything she does not want Ruby to see) and exerts too much control over her life because she acknowledges that her mother loves her and thinks she is doing the right thing. Ruby’s odd behavior has not gone unnoticed by Grace, however, who is convinced that something is wrong and her mother is not telling her what it is.
It is Liz who has the most difficult time accepting her mother’s diagnosis, however, feeling that Ruby’s illness should not and cannot be the catalyst for forgiveness.
Steering clear of the darker truth, brushing the unpleasantness aside, . . . that’s what I’d taught [Grace], because that’s what we did. We swept aside the pain and sadness, pushed the tough questions and the guilty answers under the carpet and then we walked on the lump. Told ourselves we were moving forward, giving ourselves a clean slate, a fresh chance. All the while, we kept walking on that bloody lump, pretending we didn’t feel a thing, until one day we tripped over it and fell flat.~ Ruby Donaldson in Island Girl
The story is told in successive chapters from the perspective of each of the three female characters. Gradually, as Simmons paints a vivid portrait of the island, its quirky and eccentric inhabitants, and the slow pace of life there, their secrets are revealed. Pulling her readers progressively further into their emotional lives, Simmons demonstrates the similarities and striking differences that have repelled the Donaldson women from each other, even while each fiercely loves and wants to protect the others. They have made it their practice and custom not to discuss the unpleasant aspects of their lives, and that has cost each of them a great deal. Can any of them break that lifelong pattern in time to benefit Ruby?
One particularly poignant demonstration of their parallel emotional journeys is Ruby’s description of waking up one morning unsure of her surroundings and unable to remember the events of the prior evening that led her to Mark’s house, rather than her own bed. Simultaneously, Liz awakens with a hangover but no memory of coming home the prior night or her activities. She has skinned knees, ripped jeans, and bruises. The roommate she has previously despised and ignored, Nadia, explains how she and another friend came to Liz’s aid and ensured she arrived home safely. Two women, similar symptoms emanating from entirely disparate sources invoking like emotional reactions: Confusion, consternation, determination not to allow the forces that brought them to those moments to get the upper hand in their lives. Such skillful storytelling will keep readers riveted to the page.
To say more about the storyline would spoil the joy of the many surprising plot twists Simmons expertly weaves into the journey of the Donaldson women. She also populates Ward Island with a colorful cast of supporting characters who are equally fascinating. In addition to Mark, the man who has steadfastly and unwaveringly loved Ruby for twenty-eight years, there is his precocious twelve-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, aka “Goth Girl,” who serves as a Jiminy Crickett-esque commentator. Completely lacking restraint, Jocelyn is the one who blurts out what many of the other characters, as well as readers, are thinking but will not disclose. Mary Anne is Ruby’s next-door neighbor, a lifelong, loyal friend who genuinely wants only the best for Ruby and her girls.
Island Girl makes a strong statement about individuality, independence, and each individual’s right to set his/her own course and follow it, no matter where it leads or how others feel about it. It is a story of how the love of family can truly overcome obstacles, even though those we love and need the most in our lives are frequently the same people who exasperate and frustrate us more than anyone else.
Island Girl is a perfect book to take to the beach or the pool when you want to relax and escape completely from your own problems by becoming engrossed in the life of another family working contemporary, realistic issues in a way that will leave you thinking about the Donaldsons and, in particular, what you might decide if you were Ruby, long after you finish reading the last page. Island Girl gets my highest recommendation because it is not only entertaining — frequently hilariously so — and empathetic, it also inspires serious contemplation about important questions that far too many of us will eventually find ourselves having to answer. Just be sure that you pack some tissues in your beach bag . . . you will definitely need them.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Island Girl free of charge from the author in conjunction with the TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Enter to Win a Copy of Island Girl
One lucky reader, selected at random, will receive a copy of Island Girl, graciously provided by the author.
To enter, simply post a comment stating that you would like to read Island Girl this summer! Be sure to include your email address (for notification and delivery purposes). The book can only be shipped to a United States or Canadian address (no P.O. box).
Entries will be accepted through Sunday, June 26, 2011, at 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time)!