Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers (review copy) - Mom,
I went to the store. See inside the fridge. I watered the plants. I cleaned out Peter's cage. I tidied the sitting room. And the kitchen. And I did the washing up.
I'm going to bed.
Your live-in servant,
Life on the Refrigerator Door is told exclusively through notes exchanged by Claire and her mother, Elizabeth, during the course of a life-altering year. Their story builds to an emotional crescendo when Elizabeth is diagnosed with breast cancer.
Stunningly sad but ultimately uplifting, this is a clever, moving, and original portrait of the relationship between a daughter and mother. It is about how we live our lives constantly rushing, and never making time for those we love. It is also an elegy to how much can be said in so few words, if only we made the time to say them.
A new edition of this simultaneously heartbreaking and heart-warming novel by Alice Kuipers. From Goodreads.
I have had Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers recommended to me twice; once, a number of years ago, and I only remember the recommendation because of the book's epistolary format, and again earlier this year when looking for books written in an unusual format. As it is with there being so many books you want to read, I've been intrigued by this book for ages, but never actually picked it up. Fortunately, due to this new edition just being released, I was sent a copy for review, and it's just so brilliant, and wonderfully surprising.
Claire's mum is an obstetrician, and is always busy at work delivering babies. Claire has school, an active social life and her babysitting job. They both always seem to miss each other, so they leave notes for each other on the door of their fridge. Their relationship is like any other between a teenager and her mother, although sometimes difficult as they both want to see each other more, wish the other was a little less busy. But then Claire's mum gets some devastating news - news that will change both of them individually, as well as their relationship.
The story is told solely through through the notes left on the fridge, and as the novel is only 226 pages long and some of the notes only being a few lines long, I read the whole book yesterday in under an hour. Even so, it was very emotional, surprisingly so, and very moving. It made me think about my own relationship with my mum, and how just earlier in the morning I'd left a note for her as we'd miss each other, about my dinner plans, but also to wish her well for something happening in her day. This novel made me wish I'd been able to wish her well in person, and I gave her a big hug when I saw her next.
When Claire's mum (who, as far as I remember, is never actually named in the novel, despite Goodreads' summary) is diagnosed with breast cancer, she plays it down. She's sure everything will be fine, it's nothing to worry about. Because of this, Claire worries less than she might have. Her mother is a doctor, her mother is also her mother, and so she believes her that there's no need to worry. And so life for Claire carries on as normal for the most part; boy worries, wanting to go shopping and spending time with her friends. However, her mum's struggles with the treatment and needs her daughter to help out a little more, or wish she'd seen her, or, on days when the treatment makes her ratty, they get into arguments. Claire is still thinking that her mum will end up fine, so she is a little selfish at times, and it's so upsetting when you, the reader, know her mum is just trying to protect her from the worry though she's really taking quite a hit. It takes a while for Claire to realise just how serious this is, and even then, she doesn't know the right thing to do. She tries to help her mum, do things she think she would like, that would make her smile, but actually do the opposite, because she's still quite young, even at 15.
As the story goes on and you see the two get closer through their notes, as they try to see more of each other and be more honest about what they're thinking and feeling, it gets very emotional. It's beautiful to see their relationship get better, but so hard to see Claire suffer emotionally about her mum, and her mum struggle with her cancer. Less than 45 minutes into starting this book, I was close to tears.
For such a quick read, Kuipers really sucks you in and takes you through so many emotions. It's a great talent to get a reader so emotionally invested in a story when it's so short and so quickly read, but I was completely gripped by these characters and their story, and so hopeful for them. A fantastic novel, a great read if you've got a spare half hour, just be prepared to have your emotions go through the wringer.
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books for the review copy.
Published: 30th July 2015
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Alice Kuipers' Website