In this touching and heartbreaking account of the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease on both those who are living through it and those who are caring for them, readers will be moved to tears experiencing the life of Josephine and her visiting nurse and author Valérie Villieu. With beautiful and haunting illustrations by Raphaël Sarfati, and a translation from the French by Nanette McGuinness, this story of one woman’s quest to make a difference in a patient’s life will stick with readers long past the last page.

When Valérie first meets Josephine in her apartment in France, she finds a woman who is undergoing a major life transition, dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Josephine is receiving care that is not supportive or encouraging during this time of intense and painful change. She often goes days without bathing, meals, or meaningful human interaction, and this has caused a rift in her ability to care for or even recognize herself as days turn into weeks, months, and years. Valérie must spend much time building a relationship with Josephine before she truly trusts her, but once the trust is established, their relationship and friendship represents a great change in Josephine’s life.

Valérie successfully finds Josephine a full-time caregiver who cares for her deeply, and her eating and bathing habits improve. Valérie and her partner work hard with the conservator to ensure that Josephine has money to buy clothing, food, and most importantly, a replacement for her glasses that had been broken for many months. As the book progresses through the years, readers see Josephine through Valérie’s eyes as she notices a slight and then more sudden decline into the disease. After a moment of fear when Josephine has disappeared, the decline happens much more rapidly until Josephine is placed in a facility that has the means to care for her full-time with constant supervision. Slowly, Valérie loses track of Josephine’s whereabouts until Josephine’s nephew calls with sad and surprising news.

This beautifully and creatively illustrated graphic novel shows Josephine and her disease in a way that is understandable and approachable. The pastel palette of watercolor pages contains a variety of different ways of telling Josephine’s story through art. A mixture of blank panels and full-page spreads mixed with photographs and brain images all lend themselves to the often turbulent and painful mix of emotions that Alzheimer’s can bring to both affected people and those who care for them. Raphaël’s illustrations bring life to all of the characters in Josephine’s circle of existence with Valérie providing commentary, context, and emotion to her explanation of the people, places, and things that factor into Josephine’s later years.

Little Josephine: Memory in Pieces is a rare book that brings readers along both Valérie and Josephine’s journeys into the next stages of their lives. The caring and wonderful relationship that Valérie built with Josephine is something to be revered and admired; this story gives it all the justice it deserves. Raphaël’s illustrations only make the story that much better by providing a sense of love and understanding through the thoughtful and warm illustrations throughout the book. This is a book that will touch readers and make everyone think about the elders in their lives and the state of elder care throughout the world.

Little Josephine: Memory in Pieces
By Valérie Villieu
Art by Raphaël Sarfati
Translation from the French by Nanette McGuinness
ISBN: 9781643375342
Humanoids, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 17+

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)

  • Traci

    | She/Her

    Traci has been a graphic novel selector and collections coordinator for kids and teens in libraries in Arizona and Oregon since 2005. She served as the chair of YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee, and served as a member of the Great Graphic Novels for Teens blogging team. She previously coordinated the Oregon Young Adult Network’s Graphic Rave list, OYAN’s yearly list of the best graphic reads for teens. Traci is a member of ALA, YALSA, and GNCRT. And, she achieved her greatest dream ever by serving as a judge for the 2019 Eisner Awards.

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