Single mom Sarah starts day shift in the dementia ward of the healthcare facility Tranquilty, moving from nights in palliative care. Her new co-worker Tracey immediately befriends her, introducing her to the “cast of characters” for whom she will be caring: Sam, who randomly prefers nudity, gentle, inquisitive Rose, the bickering twins Lily and Beth, the wheelchair menace Mrs. W, who remembers a concentration camp more vividly than contemporary events, quiet Mrs. Sellers, Italian immigrant Mrs. Gallo, whose husband visits her daily, Alfred, who has a tendency to call for a once beloved cat named Hairball, and Mrs. Amaral, a sweet Portuguese immigrant. Gardiner’s work in such a facility inspired the story, and to ensure accuracy, her research included interviewing employees in all areas of the facility, from bathing to housekeeping. New residents to Tranquility bring a professional dilemma, a dangerous situation, and potential romance for Sarah. Edie, with her soft Scottish brogue, does not appear to be suffering from dementia, but when she fakes it to expose an abusive employee, Sarah keeps an eye on her. After two violent incidents, endangering staff and residents, John is quickly moved again, to the psych ward. With Georgia comes a big family, including her great-grandson Jay, who lights a fire in Sarah. Along with all this, Sarah’s own grandma suffers a second stroke, and her mother must deal with end of life choices, a struggle for a woman who hasn’t really gotten over her husband’s death a decade earlier. The brightest light in this story is Kayla, Sarah’s daughter, who gives her grandma life, and handles great-grandma’s struggle with surprising grace for a 4-year-old. Sarah and Tracey execute a not-quite-legal plan to prove the co-worker’s abuse, but it’s waylaid by Edie’s plan to do the same. Everything comes together in the end in a complicated, bittersweet resolution, just like in real life. Characters learn and grow, while others astonish, but most of all, the ones who need to find themselves do so.
This is a beautiful story of faith in humanity, dignity in aging, justice for the vulnerable, and finding strength in family and friends.