Brad, son and grandson of Boston doctors, resists acknowledging what is happening as his beloved grandfather succumbs to Alzheimer's disease. The family's resignation to the loss simply fuels his denial. His father, a senior physician, has to confront both his own father's dementia and his son's denial.

The rest of the family conspire from various points of view to make Brad accept what is happening to his grandfather and how the family system has to change in response. The old man, they point out, gets mean as well as disoriented. The father urges Brad not to divert his energies from "normal" adolescent occupations to trying to rescue his grandfather from an inevitable fate. Brad's response is to insist that his grandfather might get better, and to resent ever more deeply a family he sees as abandoning the old man.

In a final scene the old man is almost hit in an accident. Brad races to call his father, returning in time for his exhausted and confused grandfather to collapse against him on the sidewalk. Brad's father refuses to resuscitate him, recalling the old man's prohibition against extraordinary measures. In that moment of decision Brad comes to understand his father's predicament, his professional responsibilities, and the complexity of his relationship to the man he has known as grandfather. Letting his grandfather go, he also lets go of an adolescent resistance to his father's point of view, and crosses a threshold into adulthood that is both sobering and liberating.


Graber's book portrays inter-generational love in a credible and moving but unsentimental way. Romantic interests, family issues, and personal soul-searching on the part of the growing grandson enrich the plot. Incidental side-plots involve Brad's girlfriend, who tries to widen his point of view; his sister, whose reaction to her grandfather's dementia is to wish he would die; and his friend Lance, whose alcoholic mother has driven him to the drug habit that finally leads to his suicide. These provide perspective on Brad's situation and various ways of thinking about responsibility in situations of illness and death.

The style is lively, the characters economically and well drawn, and the issues appropriate for any adolescent reader. The boy in the story emerges from his encounter with death conscious that, as T. S. Eliot put it, "as we grow older/ The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated / Of dead and living . . . " (from "East Coker").


The author has been a science writer and editor for several publications in the medical field.


Harper & Row

Place Published

New York