This is just…I mean…it’s the best. I want to bake it into a cake and then eat it. I want to paper my walls in it. I want to fill a tower full of copies, and then swim in them, like Scrooge McDuck.
I can’t see it being any less comfortable, really.
Brief caveat: Meg Rosoff and I are internet-friends. You know how it goes. Second caveat: first person present tense is the worst, right? I mean, the second-worst, because second person ANY tense still exists in the world. But it’s almost never good. But then I read a book like Picture Me Gone and I’m like, EVERYONE, come look at this, and no more 1P-PT unless you can do it like this. As you were.
So. Mila and her dad are going to America from England to visit her dad’s old friend Matthew, only right before they go, Matthew wanders off ABANDONING WIFE AND BABY AND DOG. Mila and her dad go over anyway and, taking the dog, get a-questing.
And Meg Rosoff is never terribly long on plot. I mean, the entire plot of What I Was is boy meeting boy, boy and boy hanging out in a shack by the sea, boy turning out to not be what boy had seemed and I know that last bit sounds like plot, but it’s really only the last ten pages of the book so it hardly counts.
But her characters, I mean REALLY. Mila has heightened powers of perception, like if Dr House was a young girl and not an asshole, and if his observational gift was more a Point of Interest and not an Entire Character. Or like if a dog were a human.
We all know how that would go.
And as much as I love jive-talking John-Green-y teens, I think I love this sort of quiet, introspective teen more (ok, pre-teen. Mila’ is 12). (It goes without saying that I hate beyond hating the thesaurus-using overblown Flavia-de-Luce-style child prodigies. Hate them.) The novel is less about Where Matthew Is and more about Mila Thinking About Things. I KNOW. I thought I hated books about people thinking about things, but that’s like thinking I love books about people dying of plague when I really only like that one excellent book in which everyone dies of plague. (Evvvvvvveryone. It’s fantastic.) This is one of those times when I state the super-obvious but it all depends on how well you execute your thinking/plague-dying novel.
A sample: Mila is trying to be methodical about Matthew’s disappearance and her father, Gil, isn’t cooperating.
Look, I say. You can’t just let your thoughts float around in the ether and hope eventually they’ll connect with something. It’s absurd.
No, it’s not, Gil says. Lots of good things happen that way. Penicillin. Teflon. Smart dust. Something happens that you weren’t expecting and it shifts the outcome completely. You have to be open to it.
When I open my brain, I tell him, things bounce around and fall out. They don’t connect with anything. Maybe I haven’t got enough points of reference stored up yet.
You’re young, he says, that’s probably it. When I let my thoughts float around, I trust that they’ll latch on to something useful in the end or make an association I wouldn’t necessarily have predicted. I’m trusting that they’ll find the right thought to complete, all by themselves. The right bit of fact to go ping. You have to trust your brain sometimes.
So. Picture Me Gone = Mila learning about what it means to be an adult, which is sometimes great because you have more reference points in your brain, and sometimes terrible because you have understandable (if not excusable) reasons for abandoning your wife and child.
ALSO, I really really love a story with a sympathetic dog, especially when that dog doesn’t die. (Patrick Ness, I’m talking to you.)
And never will we.
So while How I Live Now remains the most Raych-shaped of Rosoff’s books, Picture Me Gone is maybe her best yet.