‘We’re all different.
When Ismae Rogers was born, her difference was just easier to see’
Be prepared to be taken on emotional rollercoaster when reading The Difference. At times it will overwhelm you, but it will also make you think.
The Difference is the debut novel from Justine Delaney Wilson and was released in May 2016 by Hachette Books Ireland. I received my copy from the author in return for my honest review.
On a January morning, Beth and Steve bring three-day-old Ismae home from the hospital. A little girl to complete their suburban family.
Except Beth knows that Ismae is different. And that, as she gets older and stronger, her difference will become more obvious.
As the future Beth imagined grows even more out of reach, the walls of their vast house close in on her, isolating her from Steve.
Then she makes a terrible discovery …
Will Ismae’s difference break her family apart? Or will Beth be able to see that it’s the one thing that can save her?
The Difference is more than a novel about a little girl called Ismae. It is the story of a family and how they rediscover what it means to live again. It is the kind of novel you just cannot put down so be prepared to clear your schedule of all else. Each page of this novel and the characters who inhabit the 260 pages will make you reflect on your own life and the direction you assumed you would take…then life took over.
Ismae is a little girl born with Down Syndrome to Beth and Steve. The arrival of Ismae introduces a lot of anger and disillusionment into their married life. They live in the ‘right’ part of town, in an impressive house they thought would bring them happiness. But soon they realise the falseness of the life they have settled into. The aspirations and dreams of their neighbours in this affluent address are no longer their’s.
‘Mae’s condition had made celebrities of us – the cheap magazine kind that people want to know all about but would never want to be. I wasn’t just another mother walking her baby around the orderly avenues behind the big gates. I was Beth – Ismae’s mum – you know, the one with Down’s.’
Beth is the character I completely connected with in this novel. Her built up resentment with life resonated with me as a mother. I cried when I read the following – ‘My life wasn’t always nothing but a series of obligations and facilitating everyone else’s lives and what they need, and being nothing, every day, all the time.’ Beth had some very tough experiences when she was in her late teens. On meeting Steve, she wasn’t in anyway prepared for how life would just take over.
They live close to Beth’s parents, which Beth realises is probably not a good thing. ‘It’s only minutes from my parents’ home so there are some of the conveniences I’d imagined, but mostly it’s a glaring indication of how far I haven’t got.’ Her mother is constantly over critical of Beth and appears to have unresolved issues herself in her own marriage.
Steve is from New Zealand and he always expected that he would return there. It is where he hoped and assumed they would have settled at this point in their lives. They are both now in their forties and begin to look back on what could have been. They’ve had fun and they’ve had dreams of how their life would pan out in the early days of their relationship and their marriage. Al, their first born, is on the verge of teenhood, with all the difficulties that that entails. Now with the arrival of Ismae, they begin to unearth their old dreams and realise that their life has gone in a direction that neither had intended… ‘the onslaught of the past years meant it was along time since either of us had felt particularly lucky. We were losing ourselves, losing each other in responsibility, How unrecognisable we had become. We might easily now pass one another on the street.’
Their relationship founders. Beth has no desire for Steve anymore. She only feels anger and bitterness toward their situation.
The Difference is an eye-opener regarding society’s approach to disability. Before Beth and Steve even leave the hospital, the doctor’s comments on Ismae’s well being are quite disturbing ‘I’ve examined your daughter thoroughly and I think she is one of the “good ones”.’ He made inverted commas around the last two words with his fingers. He smiled down at her. ‘She’s alert and she’s healthy. Who knows? She might end up getting a job in a nice café.’ She was six and a half days old.’
How upsetting is this for any, already traumatized parent to hear from the experts they hope to depend on. Steve and Beth are faced with daily challenges with each other and with every person whose path they cross. Their neighbours are all very sympathetic to Steve and Beth, whilst behind closed doors they are so thankful it’s not them. The pass remarkable comments of some of the women in the estate is quite indicative of many in society today and how disability is viewed as a whole.
How Beth and Steve deal with all these new obstacles and challenges is portrayed beautifully in The Difference.
The Difference is a novel that I was unaware of until very recently. How sorry I would have been to think I may never have read this beautiful book. Thank you Justine (Delaney Wilson) for allowing me this opportunity and giving me the honour of reviewing it.
I cannot recommend this book enough to all, no matter what your current position in this mad world we live in. You don’t have to be a parent to understand this book. You just have to have a heart.
Please let me know what you think and please pick up a copy in your local bookshop or at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1473625882
Meet the Author:
Born in Dublin Justine Delaney Wilson read English at Trinity College Dublin and completed a post-grad in Journalism at the Dublin Institute of Technology
She has been writing on a freelance basis ever since, and has worked in television research and production for over a decade.
Her first book, The High Society (Gill & Macmillan,2007) was nominated in the Non-Fiction Book of the Year category at the BGE Irish Book Awards in 2008.
The Difference is her first novel.