By Ekta R. Garg
October 2, 2019
Release date: September 17, 2019
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
An elderly woman discovers she’s being held against her will in an assisted living facility. She decides to find out the truth behind her circumstances, all the while dodging assassins and the pitfalls of technology. Author Nevada Barr balances the realities of aging with a plot that, more or less, does its job in the fairly likeable novel What Rose Forgot.
All the world’s a haze for Rose Dennis; it seems like the days seep into one another in a dense fog. Then one day she has a moment of clarity and realizes she isn’t at home. In fact, she’s surrounded by people she doesn’t recognize who keep talking about her as if she isn’t right there in the bed next to them.
As she fights through the fuzziness induced by drugs, she pieces together the truth. She’s a resident of the Memory Care Unit in Longwood, an assisted living facility in Charlotte, North Carolina. But Rose doesn’t remember checking herself in to this place, and she definitely doesn’t remember anyone else doing it. How did she get here? Why is she here at all? And how can she go home?
That last question bothers her more than anything else, and with some ingenuity she manages to escape Longwood. Bits of her life return to her, and she goes to her stepson’s home. There she reconnects with Melanie, her teenage granddaughter and biggest fan in the world. Shocked to see her Gigi out of Longwood, Mel joins Rose’s quest to figure out what happened. Because the more Rose remembers, the more she realizes something is definitely wrong about her entire situation. The fact is confirmed by the arrival of a man hired to kill Rose; when he fails, Rose knows her days are numbered if she doesn’t figure out the situation soon.
With the help of Mel, Mel’s best friend, Royal, and Rose’s big sister, Marion (a computer whiz in California who refuses to travel but offers moral, and tech, support in every way,) Rose begins to make sense of her admittance to Longwood. The four discover a disturbing fact, and their mission becomes larger with the aim to expose the guilty parties. Along the way, Rose realizes that her age may slow her down but she still has plenty of fight left.
Author Nevada Barr gives senior citizens a prominent voice through Rose’s character. Rose feels every bit of her age, and she’s slowed down by it time and time again. Her sheer grit to get to the bottom of the matter, though, propels her forward every single time she gets knocked down—and she gets knocked down several times.
Therein lies part of the book’s weakness. In different parts of the novel, Rose is hurt—when she’s running away from Longwood, for example, or when she fights the hitman hired to kill her. The overtly physical interactions described would knock down people in the prime of their lives, yet Rose stops to sleep and bandage herself and stands to fight another day. The fact that Rose can do so after her accumulation of injuries borders on the incredulous.
On the plus side, Barr builds well-developed characters in Rose and Mel. Mel questions her grandmother but never insults her insistence that she doesn’t belong in Longwood, a testament to the bond between grandparents and grandchildren. Royal, as Mel’s sidekick, is funny and kind and shows up when needed. Marion, despite only appearing via phone, email, and text, also is three-dimensional with her sharp wit and her declaration that she’s “not a hacker” even as she helps Rose break into technology at key moments.
The rest of the characters, by sharp contrast, don’t feel as substantial. Readers would not be faulted for mixing up some of the secondary characters, which makes some of the important turns in the plot feel less plausible. The premise Barr puts forth makes sense; the way the secondary characters participate in that premise may not always be as clear-cut.
Some of the dialogue will make readers laugh out loud, though, and one element of the story comes through loud and clear: even in this progressive culture, the elderly still fight against the stereotypes of age and how society expects them to be. Those wanting a deeply personal look at some of the challenges of aging might want to check this one out. I recommend that readers Borrow What Rose Forgot.