It is that time of the year again, when I am furiously reading a certain kind of novel, that elusive species of book that can simultaneously entice a girls from the ages of 12 to 17 old, as well as all their parents and all their teachers.
I know. I should just give up now. That book does not exist. And yet, this is my 5th year heading our school wide summer read committee and still I keep trying.
I have learned a few lessons on the way.
1. Do not put anything on the long list that I have not read and approved.
2. Parents are really quite weird about any sort of sexual reference even if it is just one about masturbation.
3. Listen to my gut- if my gut tells me this is a badly written book and will not be appreciated by the adult population even if it has been on the best seller list for two years, don’t let it be on the list.
4. It is impossible to please everybody. There will always be people who hate the book. I suspect that some students have made up their minds to hate it even before it is chosen, so I don’t worry too much about it.
I already have a couple of titles I feel comfortable nominating, ones that I read for pleasure and only after thought about it for our school program. However, there are many books out there. Which means a lot of reading. I usually begin this quest during the winter break, but I was too busy re-reading all of J.D. Salinger’s work (which will be its own, very long post soon).
So really, I only started this weekend. Staf and students nominate books and I have to cull them. Now, I do have certain criteria that must be filled before I even consider a book:
1. It has to be no more than 350 pages (or round about).
2. It can’t have a movie made of it.
3. It has to be available in paperback.
4. It has to have topics and issues that can be discussed in different classes.
That’s pretty much it. We like it when the author is Canadian, but it isn’t necessary.
The first book on my list of potential titles, Meg Rosoff’s Picture Me Gone, fits all of the above criteria. It is the story of Mila (who is around 12 I think- her age is never specifically given) and her father Gil. Though they live in London, they’ve planned to spend their spring break in upstate New York with Gil’s best friend, Matthew. But Matthew disappears right before they leave and their trip is dedicated to finding him.
This is a hard book to talk about, as nothing much happens to Mila. She’s really along for the ride, a witness to the very adult dramas going on around her. Rosoff applies her talent for intense first person characters to Mila, using her signature style of minimalist punctuation (no quotation marks ) so that the line between what Mila says and what she thinks is sometimes blurred. Mila has a very unique voice- at once sensitive, mature, intelligent but also very young and innocent. I love how Rosoff never dumbs down her kid characters and how she never sentimentalizes them either. Mila is a sensitive young girl who’s perception of her ability to comprehend the world outpaces her actual ability to do so..
And that is the beauty of this book. This is not one of those stories where a kid comes of age by making their own terrible mistakes and then picking up the pieces in some hard-won, gritty wisdom. Mila is put in the middle of a dramatic situation- grief over a dead child, a crumbling marriage, depression and alcoholism, none of which actually touches her personally, except that, in trying to understand what is going on around her, her world shifts and expands to encompass a more nuanced concept of humanity. It is a coming of age moment that feels authentic and genuine.
As a side note, it was also a pleasure to read about a relationship between a father and daughter that had such warmth and understanding. Mila comes from a home with a lot of love, a fact that she begins to appreciate the more she sees of the world.
This one is definitely going on the long list.