I have been a huge fan of Meg Rosoff’s writing ever since her first novel, How I Live Now, came out to massive critical acclaim.
Her work is aimed at the teen/YA end of the reading market, and does not shy away from tricky topics like sex, or death or the huge emotional impact growing up has on us as individuals. She quite often writes about broken families or strange family groupings, and her books always make you think.
Picture Me Gone is told from the point of view of Mila, a twelve year old girl who lives with her dad, Gil, a translator of books, and her mum Marieka, a musician. The family dynamic is unorthodox. Gil is an older father. Gil and Marieka are not married, and sometimes live apart, simply because they want to. What is clear is that Gil, Mila and Marieka, are a strong, loving, family unit, despite not living in a conventional way.
Against this comes the story of Mila’s best friend Kat, whose parents are unhappy together and making each other unhappy apart. Kat is adrift in the sea of her parents separation, and this puts strain on her friendship with Mila.
The main story of the book, however, is Mila and Gil’s trip to try and find his oldest friend, Matthew. Matthew once saved Gil’s life on a climbing expedition. Now Matthew has gone missing, leaving his wife and young child behind, not knowing where he is. Gil feels that he might be able to find Matthew, and takes Mila with him.
Mila has a gift for knowing things about people, things that are unsaid, or things that people don’t even know they know about themselves. Mila thinks this skill will help her and Gil find Matthew. She sets off on the trip, full of hope, imagining that it will be like a detective game almost.
What she finds out is that life is complicated, and sometimes what you thought you knew, you end up not knowing at all.
The book is a kind of rites of passage novel, with a slightly mystical element woven through it.
I didn’t like it as much as her other books I’ve read. I thought the mystical element was over played in the synopsis, and made really weak in the book. It seemed like nearly everything Mila thinks she knows is over turned and there is very little sense of the eeriness that lingers in others of Rosoff’s books. It was, in the end, all rather pedestrian. I think it’s important that Mila understands that her life cannot be predicted or lived by the strength of what she intuits alone, and that she has to learn to navigate the strange things that adults do and say that seem counter intuitive or just plain wrong to her. This seems to be the central message of the book, and it is well thought out and sympathetically told, but it just didn’t work for me in terms of being as enjoyable as Rosoff’s other books.
I also thought that Mila’s age didn’t gel with Mila’s experience and what she feels/thinks. In the book she is twelve, but she often speaks, acts and is treated like someone quite a lot older. She starts a tentative friendship with a fifteen year old in the book, a friendship which promises more than friendship, which seemed a little troubling given her age. I appreciate that she has been brought up by older parents and is treated more like an adult by them, but it was still rather unsettling at times. I felt sorry for Mila in that you could see she was having trouble finding ground between being treated like an adult on the one hand, and a child on the other. I think this is true for many teens but I would have felt more comfortable if Mila’s real age in the book was perhaps fourteen.
The book is less adult than some of Rosoff’s other work, which would make it suitable for younger readers than I would usually recommend it to. There is quite a lot of discussion about death in the book, and this is the only issue I’d flag up if I were to offer the book to younger than a teen audience. You might want to think about how the reader will cope with that kind of material. Otherwise I’d say it was fine for children aged 10 to 16. I’d recommend it to girls rather than boys. Mila is a very female narrator and there is a lot of thinking and not a great deal of doing in the book. It focuses on female friendships and female relationships a lot more too. I cannot imagine any of the boy readers I work with being attracted to this novel.