Sunday, 8 December 2013

Picture Me Gone, by Meg Rosoff

Picture Me Gone is breathtakingly wonderful, Meg Rosoff at her absolute best. Just when I’d given up on her (I didn’t manage to finish her last book), she goes and writes this. It is heartbreaking and tense and a sort of sadness permeates the text, yet it’s neither weepy nor depressing; instead it is simple and tidy whilst filled with beautiful and wonderful thoughts, sentences, ideas. It is a story of loss, of being lost and of getting lost, and yet a lot of things are found in it.

Mila likes to solve puzzles – and she’s good at them too, good at seeing things other people don’t see, that other people don’t feel. Like the waitress who doesn’t know she’s pregnant, or the father who forgets his child is only a child. But now, Mila’s father’s best friend has gone missing, has simply walked out on his life. Can Mila help her father figure out where Matthew’s gone and why he left? Matthew, though, is a stranger to Mila. She only knows him through her father’s eyes: friends from childhood, the man who saved his life. But who is Matthew really? What will Mila find when she starts to see him through other people’s eyes? What secrets has he been hiding, and what really happened the night that his son Owen died?

Mila and her father, Gil, were already planning a visit to America to see Matthew, so when he goes missing, they continue with their plans, hoping instead they’ll be able to help his wife find him. Gil is a translator, a master of languages, and translation is a strong theme wound through Rosoff’s story: how we translate what others tell us, what we see, what we choose to see. Mila’s self-appointed task is to translate all the little bits and pieces she gathers from her father, from Matthew’s wife and family, and turn them into an explanation for Matthew’s behavior. But can a person ever really be wholly translated to someone other than themselves?

It is a far more difficult exercise than Mila ever imagined. In the beginning, in many ways Mila takes on the role of the grown up, and we can’t help but think of her this way as she looks out for her father, but as the story develops and her discoveries get progressively darker, her assertions that she is a child become ever stronger. Her emotions are swept into a whirlwind, the world she thought she knew turned into a mountain of questions and uncertainties. The bright lights and bright colours of the book’s cover belies what Mila finds inside – reflected further by the snow storm that dampens everything down, covering the world in a blanket of white – but it’s not a blanket that can protect Mila from the future, from growing up.

Rosoff’s language is so clean and sharp that it forced me to read slowly, to take in and appreciate every part of the story and the poetry she invokes, yet it’s impossible not to keep turning the page as her words seeped into my everyday life, taunting me until I could return to the story. Undoubtedly one of the most accomplished young adult books of 2013.

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