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, but her latest new life, lived with naval precision with Katherine, Lawson and their dog, Chief, has proved to be the salvation 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 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.
Di Walker’s debut novel, Unpacking Harper Holt, was released in September, 2018. I loved this book and was keen to read her second novel, Every Thing We Keep, released in April 2021 by Scholastic Australia with the revised edition released in June 2022. I was not disappointed.
Di writes with emotion and heart, offering deep insight into her characters. In this novel, I was on Agatha’s side from the start, and my heart hurt along with hers, as she grappled with her grief and shame, and the impact of a terrible loss on her and her parents. Agatha is bright and brave and loyal. But all she sees is a kid whose family are a joke; a kid who has nothing but sadness in her life. Except for the glimmer of light she has seen, staying in her latest foster family, with Katherine and her dog, Chief.
Katherine doesn’t judge Agatha. She doesn’t laugh at her. She offers respite and a warm and loving place to stow her orange suitcase and her worries. But new social worker, Nell, is taking her back to her house, where every inch of space is filled with stuff, her parents’ hoarding reflecting their inner turmoil and need to hold on any way they can. Agatha feels as if she has been forgotten by them and is stuck between loving them and wanting to run away.
After she finally does run away one night, deciding she cannot take it anymore and must go back to Katherine’s house, a chance encounter with a girl called Tully at the train station, leads to more than just a momentary interlude – it leads her to friendship and maybe, even a way to make peace with her parents and herself.
This is a strong narrative with well-written characters and emotion. Di is a talented writer who brings you inside both Agatha and Katherine’s minds. She also manages to offer insight into why Agatha’s parents are the way they are; why they hoard and hold onto so much stuff, why they have disengaged with the world, why they appear to have forgotten about Agatha. There are moments that made me laugh and moments, (one section in particular) where I sobbed out loud. And whilst I was crying, I was also feeling joy – at the way human beings have capacity for love and connections, even in the darkest of moments.
This novel reminded me of the books I loved as a teen – stories about relationships and families and people’s struggles. Stories that share the small and the big moments of being alive. Stories that make you consider what it might be like to be Agatha; that create connections and make you feel. Having worked as a social worker for many years, the fact that it was clear Agatha loved her parents and they loved her, but they could not care for her right now, rang true, and I liked both the girls who become her friends, and the adult characters who helped Agatha, very much.
Highly recommended reading for ages 10+ I think that both younger and older teens would enjoy this book, and as an adult, it was an excellent read. My husband came home from work when I was in the final pages, and I waved him away, (and delayed dinner!), because I didn’t want to interrupt the narrative in the closing moments.
I can’t wait to see Di’s next book, due out in 2023! See more about her and where to buy her books on her website.