The Granny Project is a short YA novel written by Carnegie Medal winning writer Anne Fine and first published in 1983. It later found a place on the school curriculum and was adapted into a popular play. It opens with the mother and father of the family announcing the intention to put the children’s beloved grandmother into a nursing home.
“Are you two thinking of putting Granny into a home?”
“Thinking is finished,” Natasha told him. “It is decided.”
The four children -Ivan, Sophie, Tanya and Nicholas- subsequently hatch a cunning plan, (the Granny Project of the title). They will gather data which paints their parents attempts at caring for Granny, who is living with Dementia, in a very negative light. If Henry and Natasha don’t back down and allow Granny to stay in the house, they will hand this report in as a Social Sciences project, mortifying their parents. It’s an effective means of blackmail and eventually Henry and Natasha agree that Granny can stay.
However, they do not fill their children in on the conditions associated with their acquiescence until the Granny Project has been destroyed. As soon as the written evidence is burnt, they inform the children that they are now solely responsible for their grandmother’s care. The children soon learn exactly how much work goes into caring for an elderly person living with Dementia, though I have to say, they -especially Ivan- make a valiant effort at giving the old lady the respect and attention she deserves. Just at the point when the situation is once again becoming intolerable, Granny sadly develops pneumonia and passes away. Towards the end of the novel, the older children reflect on the two forms of care their granny experienced at the end of her life.
“Ivan, if Granny hadn’t died, and we could start again, would you still vote for keeping her at home?”
“Yes,” Ivan said.
“Just the same?”
“No, not just the same. Not with the system where they did all the work, and hated it. Or with the one where I did.”
It’s these insights into caring from the child’s perspective which make The Granny Project such an interesting read. In taking on the full burden of their grandmother’s care, the children come to understand how much pressure their parents have been under, yet also develop an even closer bond with the old lady and feel more inclined to ensure she stays at home. There’s not a huge amount of fresh insight into what it’s like to live with Dementia here; Granny’s condition isn’t even given an official name. The emphasis is more on the carers perspective and particularly how children will react to seeing someone they love begin to become confused.
This is an often times hilarious, sharply written analysis of what it takes to holistically care for a loved one at home. It explores the complexities of family dynamics, what it feels like to be a child carer, (including the practical sacrifices and lifestyle changes Ivan is forced to make) and also how children process grief and loss. At times it feels a little dated, the cultural references are firmly rooted in the eighties and some of the attitudes feel a little out of whack with contemporary thinking but it’s still well worth reading today.
The Granny Project was published by Methuen Children’s Books in 1983