Desert Isle Keeper
T. Greenwood is known for writing poignant novels guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings, and that’s exactly how I would describe her latest book, Keeping Lucy. It’s a tough read, but so incredibly worth your time if you can stick with it.
When Ginny Richardson gave birth to her second child in 1969, she expected everything to proceed like clockwork, so she and her husband Ab are stunned to learn that their newborn daughter has Down Syndrome. Ab, a high-powered lawyer who is firmly under the thumb of his domineering father, can’t bear the thought of raising a disabled child, and so he whisks her away to Willowridge, a so-called special school for those with cognitive disabilities. Ginny is in shock, and her daughter is taken away from her before she fully recovers from the birth, and by the time she’s feeling able to process things, the baby is gone. Ginny longs to visit her, to form some kind of connection with the little girl she named Lucy, but Ab and his parents are not in favor of this idea. They tell Ginny to forget about Lucy and go on with her life.
For the next two years, Ginny does her best to abide by Ab’s wishes even though it goes against everything she believes about what it really means to be a mother. She concentrates on her son Payton and tries hard not to think about Lucy, the daughter she hasn’t seen since her birth. But when Ginny’s best friend Marsha brings a series of newspaper articles to her attention, she knows she can’t continue to obey her husband. She has to drive to Willowridge, the place the newspapers are referring to as a hell on earth.
Telling Ab that she and six-year-old Peyton are going to spend some time with Marsha, Ginny packs her bags and heads off on a road trip that will forever change the way she views the world around her. Arriving at Willowridge, Ginny is appalled by the horrible conditions Lucy and the other residents are forced to endure, and she removes her daughter from the institution that very day. She knows Ab and his parents will not agree to allow Lucy to live with them at home, so Ginny and Marsha decide to drive down to Florida in order to give Ginny time to come up with a plan for Lucy’s future.
What follows is a fantastic road-trip story that centers around Ginny’s determination to keep Lucy with her. She and Marsha don’t always think things through as well as one might wish, but I found it all but impossible not to cheer them on as they struggle to do what’s best for Lucy.
I was born in 1980, and as a person with a disability, I’m certainly no stranger to the close-mindedness exhibited by a large chunk of the human race. Even so, I found parts of this book incredibly difficult to read. People have no qualms about coming up to Ginny and referring to Lucy in very derogatory ways, and it’s hard to think of a young child being treated so poorly.
I struggled to like Ab. He’s extremely weak-willed and finds it impossible to stand up to his parents. He does whatever they tell him to, no matter how it affects the other people in his life, namely Ginny. We learn some things over the course of the story that go a long way toward making sense of his behavior, but he isn’t a character I ever warmed up to completely. He makes some positive strides toward the novel’s end, though some readers might consider them underwhelming.
Books that deal with disability in a realistic, down-to-earth way aren’t all that common, so I was especially pleased with the way in which Ms. Greenwood chose to tackle it here. She does a great job remaining true to the attitudes of the time without trying to sensationalize things. Instead, she allows the thoughts and actions of her characters to speak for themselves, something I most definitely appreciated.
Keeping Lucy is a well-crafted story that manages to tackle difficult issues in a completely relatable way. I’m more than happy to recommend it to those looking for a disability-themed story, as well as to anyone who loves watching a heroine come into her own under less than ideal circumstances.