Sweet like Toffee but Bitter like Coffee

Being ToffeeBeing Toffee by Sarah Crossan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Bloomsbury, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In some secluded corner of our minds, we will both always remember. And hopefully, we can forget, too.

If you’re looking for a quick yet heartwarming book, look no further. Being Toffee was written in verse, so it made a Slowpoke/Slowbro/Slowking like me feel like a speed reader. If all of the books in the world were like this, I could read hundreds of them a year. Hahaha.

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Being Toffee highlights what it feels like to grow up with abusive parents. Allison, the main character, runs away from home after her dad “accidentally” burns her face with an iron. Having nowhere else to go and nothing to eat, she sleeps in the shed of an old woman named Marla. Marla has dementia, and Allison takes advantage of this by moving in and pretending to be Toffee, Marla’s childhood friend. Allison would rather not scam an innocent lady, but she’s out of options. Soon, she learns that Marla is always left to her own devices in spite of her condition. Both Marla’s son and caregiver are unbelievably neglectful. So in a way, Allison becomes Marla’s new guardian angel.

I understand that it’s easy to judge Allison for tricking Marla. After all, people with dementia deserve our compassion and kindness. However, if you were in Allison’s shoes, what would you do? Like Allison, I would do my best to survive. My parents are nothing like her father, so I can barely imagine what she went through in her hellish house. If anything, this novel made me grateful for the blessing of a loving family.

Allison’s recollections of her dad were mostly terrible. He excelled at physical and verbal abuse, hurting Allison with his fists and degrading her with his insults. Every kind word and gesture felt like a miracle, a vague assurance that he really loved his daughter. And when the domestic abuse resumed, he made Allison think that it was her fault. This cycle might sound familiar if you’ve watched any film/TV show that features an abusive relationship. Now that you know the real score, can you still look at Allison with critical eyes? I certainly can’t.

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Ironically, Allison became a great “mother” to Marla. She consistently restocked the pantry, washed the dishes, did the laundry, and even tucked Marla into bed. Marla’s own children treated her like a burden to be passed on from one sibling to another. When they visited, it was evident that they would rather be somewhere else. Without Allison, Marla would have no one to take her to the hospital when she fell and hit her head. Regardless of its foundation of deceit, Allison and Marla’s relationship was mutually helpful. It didn’t last forever, though. In real life, the truth will always find a way to reveal itself.

Ultimately, Being Toffee deepened my understanding of dementia and the repercussions of domestic violence. Whether good or bad, our memories are an integral part of who we are today. Perhaps if we made a million happy memories, we would forget only a thousand of them before we finally meet our Maker. Be thankful if you have a non-abusive family to help you achieve that goal.