Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Once upon a time, Jacks Morgan had dreams.
She was going to have a successful career and travel the world. She would own a house on the beach, and spend long nights with her boyfriend strolling under the stars.
But life had other ideas. First Martha came along, then Jonty. Then Jacks' elderly mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and had to move in. Now their little terrace in Weston-super-Mare is bursting at the seams.
Jacks' dreams were put on hold long ago. But if she can save up enough to give her teenage daughter a bright future, then all her sacrifice will be worth something... won't it?
It seems like only yesterday I was totally absorbed in Amanda Prowse's last release Her Mother's Story. Yet here we are only a few short months later and once again Amanda has provided her readers with another stunning story that hits you right where it matters - direct to the heart. With such a prolific output (this is the author's third release since Christmas and there is more to come this year) you would be forgiven for thinking how can the author maintain the same standard across all her books. But rest assured the quality of writing just gets better and better with each book and Perfect Daughter is no exception. Amanda has not shied away from tackling issues which are only going to become more relevant in today's ever changing society. This new book introduces the term 'sandwich mother', a woman doing the best she can to look after her own young family whilst caring for her mother who suffers from Alzheimers. This book resonated with me not thankfully because my own mother has dementia but from seeing from my parents looking after my grandparents when they suffered with the illness many years ago. The author has skilfully written a book which explores so many situations and emotions that you couldn't fail to fall just that little bit in love with the Davies family as they traverse the daily battles of life.
In the prologue Jacks Davies is newly married to Pete, a wonderful future awaits them and their soon to be born child in Weston Super Mare. A recently purchased house with big plans for renovation is their next goal. Fast forward numerous years later and Jacks is still stuck in the same house with no nice conservatory or additions to the house. Oh how her genuine optimism has now left her. She now has two children, 17 year old Martha and the much longed for 8 year old Jonty. Jonty was the hidden gem of the book with his innocence and humour providing light relief and a sprinkling of wit at just the right moment. I certainly developed a soft spot for him and you could see Jacks wished she had more time to devote to him so he wasn't forgotten. But Jacks has pressure from all sides as well as keeping house and raising two children, her mother Ida is resident in Jonty's old room and suffering from Alzheimers. Of course Jacks would go out of her way to look after the person who raised her, yet was this what she had envisaged for herself at a still relatively young age?
The author portrays the difficulties for everyone in the family of having a person living in the house with an illness in such a realistic way. There was no avoiding the issue or the details of the day-to-day care, Amanda should be applauded for this because I firmly believe if you decide to write about something like dementia or postnatal depression there should be no short cuts or skirting round the deeper emotions. Readers want the truth. Not made up facts and Amanda never shies away from the true nature of the situation. She describes the family as loving the person Ida once was but this new frail person is a shadow occupying their house. I thought this summed up everything perfectly and I'm sure this will resonate many readers. To see someone you love go from a normal happy person regress back to childhood in terms of care needs and to lose their ability to converse and remember things is one of the most heartbreaking things any person can go through. You almost resent the person for who they are now but have to remember the good times you once shared and enjoyed with them.
Jacks was a really well written character and I felt every bit that she was torn in two between her husband and children and caring for her mother. You could see the daily routine was a grind and a juggling act where she rarely had time for herself. Her own dreams and aspirations had slipped away and Jacks wishes her daughter will achieve everything that she herself was unable to do. But my god she did her best to keep things going and the numerous things she went through before the kids even left for school just left me tired reading about them. This may sound silly but what I really loved about her was that no matter what Jonty or Martha asked for she always did her best to have it. Just the small things like when Martha yells for a clean shirt in the morning, Jacks replies it's on her chair or whatever and that is something my mum always did for me. It's the little things that count. The story flips back and forth between the present and when Jacks was a teenager and falling in love and dealing with her parents. At first I couldn't see what the point of this was but as various events unfolded it all helped me to understand why Jacks reacts the way she does. Just when you think no surely the author couldn't throw any more at the family that is exactly what Amanda does. I'm not going into any detail except to say it made me see a different side of Jacks. A side for a chunk of the novel I did not like, simply for the way she reacted. It took her some time to realise she needed to make peace with her past in order to become satisfied with what is ongoing in the present. Even though it is every mother's wish to see their children succeed and to give them everything they themselves might not have it. At times you should really leave it up to the child to see their path and make their own decisions.
This was another excellent read from Amanda Prowse although for me slightly not as good as A Mother's Story as I was an emotional wreck after reading that book. I was waiting for the jaw drop moment in this read and it didn't come for me but that is one minor complaint. Perfect Daughter is a book that should be on your reading list this Summer, it's not your usual run of the mill chick lit and I welcome that as people need a change. If you want something thought provoking and just that bit different to read over the next few weeks then go for this. You won't be disappointed. For once we weren't reading of a disfunctional family but rather a normal family battling through everyday problems and that is a relief. This sets it apart from all the other women's fiction out there at the moment. I feel there is another story about the Davies family waiting to be written. Maybe featuring Martha further down the line, well I have my fingers crossed anyway. Amanda is carving herself a successful niche in the women's fiction market and I hope she continues to write in this vein as I have really enjoyed these last few books I have read. Not long to wait until the next release. I'm looking forward to September and Three-and-a-Half Heartbeats already.