It’s the summer between Primary and Secondary School and everything’s changing for Alan. His parents have moved the family out of Dublin and bought an old house in a village in the country. At first Alan thinks he’ll be isolated and lonely with no one around to play with. However, within days of the move he’s stumbled upon the two old ladies who live in the cottage next door. Lily and Esme are twins. Although they’re extremely elderly now, they still believe themselves to be little girls and instantly mistake Alan for a young boy they used to play with, who died tragically on the day of their tenth birthday party. With the help of his new friend Lisa and a bunch of friendly locals, Alan works hard to piece together the mystery of what happened, the summer Albert died. There is talk of ghosts, a lot of laughter and a clandestine adventure to the local circus. Thanks to Alan’s efforts, Lily and Esme have the best summer of their lives and Alan himself learns a lot about friendship and the importance of community.
This is a gorgeous novel aimed at upper Primary school aged children. It never mentions the word Dementia though it’s clear from the outset that both the twins are living with the condition. They’re confused and frequently forgetful. They muddle their memories up with the present and are cared for by a stern live-in carer whom they’ve nicknamed Badger. Quinn does a fantastic job of capturing what their condition seems like to a young boy and, through Alan’s responses, painting a really compelling picture of what it looks like to befriend and accept a person living with Dementia and actually benefit from this relationship. A few of the references are a little dated. The Summer of Lily and Esme was clearly written in a pre-Internet age and yet this doesn’t stop it from being utterly charming and compelling. It’s a treat to read such a rich Dementia narrative set right here in Ireland. This is a very special book.
The Summer of Lily and Esme was published by Poolbeg Press in 1991