The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old

By Hendrik Groen – Michael Joseph, 2016

Do you ever imagine a typical day in a care home? According to 83-year-old resident Hendrik Groen, there is no such thing. He’s keeping a diary of life in the North Amsterdam pensioners’ apartments, and no secret is unwritten, including what he wishes he could say aloud if he were not so unfailingly polite. Hendrik’s diary is fiction but reads like autobiography. Facing aging head on, Hendrik and friends find humor where they can, whether it be dumping cake in the aquarium or watching the “old biddies” loosen the salt shaker on an unsuspecting dining companion. That’s not to say the diary is all fluff. Hendrik labors over buying the right mobility scooter and ponders the ethics of euthanasia when friends are ill. We can learn a great deal from Hendrik; his contentment comes from the give-and-take of genuine friendship, having a sense of purpose and always having a plan to move forward. The book is so thoroughly delightful and big-hearted, I can’t wait to read the sequel, On the Bright Side (2018).

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance

By Jonathan Evison – Algonquin Books, 2016

Harriet Chance is a delightful 78-year-old who enjoys a drink and talking to her late husband, Bernard. When Harriet learns that Bernard won an Alaskan cruise, she consults with him about going—she’s not a traveler, after all—and decides to take the trip. Once on board, Harriet is joined by a tedious, estranged daughter and is confronted with the fact that most of her life has not been as it seemed to her.

The story is told in the format of the ’50s television program “This is Your Life,” complete with the slow reveal of the contestant’s lifetime of hits and misses. Author Evison’s third-person narration mimics a television host’s as Harriet is laid bare as a wife, mother and friend. This bittersweet novel is a story of regret, redemption and self-forgiveness, with humor and memorable characters. It’s fun and hopeful and very hard to put down.

The Leisure Seeker

You will wish you owned a roadside stop along Route 66 so you could meet Ella and John Robina, married a half-century, as they run away from home on their final road trip to Disneyland. Against all advice, from medical to familial, the defiant, independent, 80-something Robinas navigate their RV from Detroit to California without regret or apology. Ella, who has refused further treatment for cancer, is stubborn and often in pain. She’s sarcastic and loving, angry and tender. Weaving in and out of coherence and traffic is John, his ability to drive not yet affected by progressing dementia, but not always sure where he is, either on the map or in life. Neither sappy nor morbid, Michael Zadoorian portrays these romantic octogenarians as rich, complex characters. Filled with dark humor and the sense of impending tragedy, The Leisure Seeker remains the love story of a couple determined to live, and end, their lives in their own way.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

By Jonas Jonasson – Hyperion, 2012

Impetuous Allan Karlsson dodges his centennial birthday celebration by escaping out the window of his nursing home. Walking in slippers to the nearby bus depot, he picks up a suitcase that a stranger asked him to watch and heads off to begin another chapter in a life already filled with adventures, both good and bad. Hilarity ensues when Allan discovers the suitcase contains a large, ill-gotten fortune and the victim needs to get it back. Allan’s resourcefulness comes from a long life that afforded him the opportunity to see many world events unfold, recalled with Allan himself in the thick of them, not unlike Forrest Gump. His experiences include building a nuclear bomb, fighting in the Spanish-American War and preventing the assassination of Winston Churchill. This is a happy-go-lucky tale with zany characters (Einstein’s brother!), improbable circumstances (an elephant!) and the most outrageous centenarian you’ll likely meet.