The Grandmother Plot by Caroline B. Cooney

Do you remember The Face on the Milk Carton? How about Flight #116 Is Down? Or maybe one of the YA horror trilogies, like Fog, Snow, & Fire or The Vampire’s Promise? These books were a staple of my middle school years. So, when I saw that their author, Caroline B. Cooney, had a new book coming out earlier this month, I requested an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley right away. To my delight, they approved my request and I got my hands on an electronic version of The Grandmother Plot

I was expecting a thriller, but what I ended up with was a surprisingly honest and candid portrayal of Alzheimer’s disease and how it affects those afflicted with the disease and all the people they love. It was never sappy, because it was told in such a matter-of-fact and sometimes sardonic manner. But I found it moving nonetheless. Freddy, the protagonist of this book is a wonderfully drawn and deeply likable young man, and I found myself sincerely caring about him and his attempts to do the right thing  – moreso than I did about getting to the bottom of the mystery.


Rating: 3 out of 5.

Mini Plot Summary: Freddy – a lampworker (i.e. glassblower) and a stoner – is staying in his grandmother’s house, trying to make the perfect glass pipe in between visits to his grandmother at the memory care center where she lives. The intersection of Freddy’s passions – making beads and drug paraphernalia out of glass – has gotten him tangled up with some shady characters. One of them wants something Freddy doesn’t want to give him, and has sent his goons to find Freddy and make him comply. Now, one of the residents at his grandmother’s nursing home has been murdered, and Freddy can’t rule out that it’s because of him. With help from his friend Laura – a sixty-something musician with a passion for pianos, organs, and smashed brass – Freddy tries to uncover the identity of the murderer… before his beloved grandmother becomes the next victim.  

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What I Liked About This Book: This book was a tender but very straightforward depiction of what it’s like to love someone whose memory has failed. Throughout the story, you get a glimpse of the struggles faced by many dementia patients and their loved ones. Cooney writes about dementia in such a wry, frank way – her prose is sincere and sympathetic toward everyone involved in dementia care, but does not shy away from how upsetting and sometimes absurd it can be. The exploration of memory care was the real heart of this book, I felt. 

I also loved the characterization, particularly of Freddy. He was such an unlikely hero; a pothead who basically leeches off his grandmother, he hasn’t renewed the car insurance or notified the Social Security department that his late mother should no longer be getting checks. But he is such a loving person, not just to his grandmother, whom he cares for despite all the challenges and difficulties and sorrows that accompany her disease, but to the other nursing home residents, their family members, and the nursing home staff. I really liked Freddy, and found myself rooting for him. 

This book also did something I love, which was to toss in details about the lives and occupations of people I know nothing about. It must have required tremendous research on the part of the author, and I found it fascinating to read about lampwork, and Freddy’s process of making beads and pipes. I also loved learning about Laura’s passions. It’s wonderful to be caught up in a story, but when the characters have interests that are totally new to me, I find it so fascinating to learn about them and it was evident that Cooney was fascinated with what she’d learned as well. 

What I Didn’t Like About This Book: This book was marketed as a thriller, and there is, indeed, a murder and a mystery to solve. But it didn’t read like a thriller. The tension fell a little flat for me, and the stakes didn’t seem very high. And the resolution didn’t feel particularly satisfying for me. I guess I got too caught up in what Freddy and Laura were doing in their spare time, and just wasn’t that interested in the actual murder investigation. 

The only other complaint I had was that I felt that Laura’s fascination with Charles Ives took up too much real estate in the book and didn’t really go anywhere, for me. 

Should You Read This Book? For me, this wasn’t an edge-of-your-seat thriller, although the mystery is solid. But the book has plenty to recommend itself nonetheless: It’s an easy read with vivid, truly likable characters and offers a very moving portrait of the effects dementia has on its victims and their loved ones. I think it’s well worth your time. Now excuse me as I go track down a copy of Cooney’s other most recent book, Before She Was Helen.

Thanks so much to the author and publisher and NetGalley for the free eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review!

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