Cosmo’s grandad is beginning to exhibit the early signs of Alzheimer’s. A team of social workers appear at the house he shares with his grandparents, hoping to test Grandad Kevin’s memory. If he doesn’t pass this memory test, Grandad will be dispatched to a nursing home. Cosmo is particularly close to his grandparents after his brother’s death and his mother’s subsequent move to Australia, leaves him living in their house. Desperate to help, he follows his grandad’s garbled instructions and uses an ancient key to let himself into Blackbrick Abbey. As soon as he steps through the gates, Cosmo is transported back in time. He meets his grandad as a young boy and gets caught up in a 70-year-old adventure, meeting the people who shaped his grandad’s life. As he plunges deeper and deeper into the strange world of Blackbrick, Cosmo continues to take extensive notes on the past, intending to use these notes to help Grandad Kevin pass his memory test. At the risk of giving away too many spoilers, I’ll leave my synopsis there.
Irish writer Sarah Moore Fitzgerald drew from her own experiences of her father’s dementia when crafting this beautiful snapshot of the relationship between a young man and his beloved grandad. The depiction of dementia is both accurate and shot through with moments of genuine humour and humanity. There are some genuine laugh out loud moments here and also a few scenes which moved me to tears. Grandad Kevin is far from being the stereotype often encountered in dementia narratives. And whilst the magical elements in the book bring a touch of whimsy and other worldliness to the story, at no point does Moore Fitzgerald shy away from confronting the harsher realities of watching a loved one journey with dementia. This, at heart, is a realist novel with a subtle element of the fantastical.
Back to Blackbrick is full of wonderful, well-crafted and memorable characters and the plot kept me gripped from start to finish. I’d thoroughly recommend it for late primary and early high school readers who enjoy funny, adventure-filled novels. It also offers a great opportunity to introduce themes around dementia and begin important conversations on this subject with younger kids.
Back to Blackbrick was published by Orion Children’s Books in 2013