Title: Everything We Keep
Author: Di Walker
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Omnibus/Scholastic Australia
Published: 1st April 2021
Synopsis: Age 9+
· Emotive middle grade fiction
· Explores issues of foster families, anxiety, hoarding
· Intelligently written, exploring difficult topics in a gentle and compassionate way
· A talented author to watch
· Themes: family, belonging, anxiety, mental health, friendship, problem solving
How do you leave a family behind?
Trailing her orange suitcase, and a heart full of worry, thirteen-year-old Agatha is about to go home. She has been in and out of foster care for years now, but her latest new life lived with naval precision with Katherine, Lawson and their dog, Chief, has proved to be the salvation that Agatha needed. She has new friends, a sense of place, and space to breathe.
But when the social worker says it’s time to return to her parents, her world comes crashing down. “Home” has always made her anxious and ashamed …and she can’t understand why now she is being forced to go back.
Is it possible to find a way to love her parents without having to live with them?
From Di Walker comes a story of hope and compassion.
Agatha’s life has been spent in and out of foster care, and just as she finds a calm and settled place, she’s yanked back home, to a place of chaos and parents who have been distant and unable to care for her since an accident many years ago. This time, Agatha has been staying Navy Commander, Lawson, and his wife, Katherine, and their dog, Chief. Unable to cope with her life at home, Agatha runs back to Katherine, yet her life is filled with uncertainty, and a sense that she can’t trust anyone, even the new friends she makes at school – part of the agreement to stay with Katherine and Lawson. Yet Agatha still loves her parents, just as she loves Katherine and feels safe with her – and is slowly able to open up and find hope in a dark world of uncertainty.
Everything We Keep is a story filled with hope and compassion, coupled with a sense of despondency and tragedy, and a feeling that something could go wrong at any time as Agatha finds her way through an uncertain world and time in her life. The people she comes into contact with – Rita, Tully, Nell, the teachers at school – all want to help her and stand with her as they try to understand what is going on in her life, and take her on a journey that leads her to learn how to trust and how to balance the life she of stability that she wants with a chaotic life with the parents she loves and has always loved. But can everyone in her life help her find this balance? She’s finally found friends at school – Tully, Morgan and Cora, and the celebration of friendship and loyalty is beautifully executed, and the ability of the other three girls to reassure Agatha that she can open up to them, and that they all have secrets is important. It allows Agatha to grow and learn to trust, and it also reassures the reader that it is oaky to have doubts and secrets because we all do, and you will eventually find those people you can trust with things that you thought you’d never tell anyone.
It is also a poignant look at the foster care system, bullying and ideas of neglect and the complexities of love, and the ways we can help those who need our help. Aimed at middle grade readers aged nine and older, this would even suit a younger YA audience, or readers of any age over nine grappling with friendship issues, family issues, difficulties at school or who might be in foster care or know someone in foster care. It can help build empathy towards those kids who live in the system. It can also open up discussions about anxiety, depression and tragedy and how tragic events can impact people in different ways, and the physical manifestation of mental health difficulties such as hoarding. Children reading this will also gain confidence to solve problems, and cope with their own mental health and that of their friends. This is a gentle and compassionate book that all readers will learn so many things from about life and learning not to judge people on what they see. This is a touching book that I read in two sittings, because I wanted to know what happened and I wanted to learn more about Agatha. It has an uplifting and hopeful feeling about it that readers will fall in love with.
A touching and beautiful read.