‘Why would God have given us bodies that enjoy the touch of another person or minds that fall in love if he hadn’t wanted us to use them? Aren’t we saying He got it wrong by imagining that these things are sinful?’
‘I’m spinning, round and round, my arms held out, head thrown back towards the pale spring sun.’
I didn’t like the original cover of ‘How Not To Disappear’, but this first sentence made me love it. This scene is referenced time and time again throughout the novel, showing how sometimes the most memorable moments are the ones that are the least life-changing.
Hattie is pregnant.
She slept with her best friend Reuben – a one-night stand that she thinks was a HUGE mistake – but now she has to deal with the consequences of having unprotected sex. It doesn’t help she hasn’t seen him since: he left without saying goodbye and is now travelling across Europe with his French girlfriend, Camille. Awkward.
Hattie’s other best friend Kat has also gone off on her travels: she’s in Scotland with her new girlfriend, Zoe. Kat’s having so much fun that she doesn’t have time to contact Hattie, who feels completely alone and is – understandably – panicking. She isn’t the type of girl to get pregnant, she’s meant to be going to university and travelling the world and having some kind of remarkable career!
Hattie’s sat on the toilet, having just taken ANOTHER pregnancy test, when she finally decides to call the doctor’s surgery and book an appointment. She’s got the phone in her hand when it rings, and upon answering it her life changes forever.
On the other end of the phone is Peggy, her great-aunt Gloria’s neighbour. This is news to Hattie: she didn’t even know she had a great-aunt. Peggy tells her that Gloria’s ill, and getting to meet family might be good for her, so Hattie promises to pass the request on to her mum. Gloria is her father’s aunt, and he’s dead; Dominic was a war reporter, and was killed in a roadside bomb explosion ten years ago.
Hattie’s mum is too busy to contact Gloria. Her and her boyfriend Carl are getting married, she’s juggling that with work and with Hattie’s younger siblings, twins Alice and Ollie. She feels sympathetic towards the old woman but she doesn’t feel any responsibility: they aren’t related. Hattie argues with her because Gloria is her relative, so her mother gives her permission to go alone if she’d like to.
She tells Reuben about Gloria in an email, and he warns her not to get involved, saying that it might be dangerous to meet a stranger. Her mum’s reluctance combined with Reuben’s demand make Hattie even more convinced, and it’s not long before she’s travelling across London to meet her long lost relative.
On her arrival, Peggy breaks the news to Hattie: Gloria is suffering with dementia, so she might be confused about who Hattie is. They get off on the wrong foot, Gloria telling Hattie she didn’t need to visit her and that she didn’t need any help, and it all comes to a head when Gloria tells Hattie that young people can’t have any real problems, to which Hattie announces that she’s pregnant and storms out of the house.
Gloria’s the first person she’s told, but Hattie doesn’t think she’ll care. Gloria was rude and horrible to her, and she wishes she hadn’t bothered. She researches the symptoms of dementia and finds that this can be one of the telltale signs: sufferers don’t like showing their vulnerability, so they put up walls and get defensive, lashing out at the people around them. When a letter from Gloria arrives in the post, Hattie is surprised, but she’s grateful to have another chance to learn more about her family’s past and why Gloria was kept a secret from them.