I am not who I say I am. Marla isn’t who she thinks she is. I am a girl trying to forget. Marla is a woman trying to remember.” These four lines, taken from the second and third pages of Sarah Crossan’s latest verse novel, perfectly encapsulate what Toffee is all about. It is a story of forgetting and remembering, of both running away from things and hurrying towards them. It is a tale of hurt, love, identity and friendship found in the most unlikely places.
The story opens with teenage runaway Allison fleeing her fractured home life and the clutches of a volatile father. She has nobody to turn to and nowhere to go until she stumbles upon a temporary safe haven in the home of Marla, a lonely elderly woman with dementia. Allison is used to hiding who she is, so when Marla mistakes her for an old friend called Toffee, Allison discreetly assumes the role she needs to keep herself off the streets. It’s cruel and fraudulent but Allison isn’t a bad person, she’s just young and desperate.
At first, Allison sees Marla’s home as a convenient stopgap. She has a roof over her head, she uses Marla’s money to buy them both food, and she has company, albeit the company of a frail, ailing woman prone to confused outbursts. Marla’s dementia makes her unpredictable; one moment she’ll wholeheartedly believe that Allison is Toffee, the next she’ll see through the façade and realise that a stranger has infiltrated her house. But the more time Allison spends with Marla, the more their unusual cross-generational bond grows, and the more she comes to care for her.
- Crossan, Sarah
- Bloomsbury Publishing PLC