Picture Me Gone
Author: Meg Rosoff
Normally I detest first person PoV, especially the dystopian ones written by female writers because they seem almost uniformly lame. It’s like no female YA author has any clue how to write in third person or how to create a strong female lead, but once in a while you find a gem (even amongst the dystopian ones) which makes all the disappointing ones worth slogging through. This particular novel is worth every letter on every page. You know you have a winner when you become addicted from page one, when you glue yourself to page after page and don’t care what you blow-off in exchange for a few more minutes with this read, and when you want to go buy the hardback version and read that instead of the library copy you have in your hands.
This novel is far from dystopian in the traditional sense, but in some ways it does carry that air. It's told from the PoV of Mila, daughter of Gil and Marieka. Mila lives in London, and is all set to visit the USA with her dad. They're going to visit her dad's oldest friend, someone who once saved his life by hauling him down from a mountain when he was suffering from exposure and altitude sickness. The problem is that Matthew has disappeared, leaving behind him a wife, a young child, and a dog, as well as a notable one-of-a-kind (almost!) home. Apparently all wasn't well at home.
Mila's special skill is that she's really Sherlock Holmes. Not really, but she does have his remarkable ability to deduce whole images from the sparsest set of clues. When they arrive in New York state, and are driven (by Matthew's wife, Suzanne) to the gorgeous house in the woods, Mila immediately starts forming solid, reliable impressions based on everything and anything she observes around her - and there's a lot to see for someone who’s eyes are truly open. Mila falls in love with the baby, and with Matthew's dog. She makes very astute deductions (including at one point, that their waitress is pregnant), yet she seems completely blind to what actually happened with Matthew. Either that or Meg Rosoff is so skilled a writer that she lays down a red herring of such admirable quality that it not only seems completely edible, but looks like it's cooked to perfection, too.
Not that it’s hard to fool me (which, delightfully, is why I get so much out of so many novels!), but here's an assortment of what I thought was going on (and note that these may or may not be spoilers - I'm not telling!). At one point, I got the impression that Mila might actually not be Gil's and/or Marieka's daughter. The two are not married and she doesn’t quite feel like she fits perfectly, even though the three of them seem very happy with each other. I wasn't completely convinced that I had that right. Gabriel - the baby - seems like he may well not be Matthew's child; Suzanne appears to be having an affair. But as I said, maybe Rosoff is truly evil and is cackling to herself even now over how many readers she's gleefully led up the garden path with her 'clues'. Maybe it's Matthew who's having an affair; maybe no one is.
I'm totally in love with both Mila and her best friend Catlin - which is something of a miracle, because often in these stories I find myself liking the side-kick better than I like the main character. Mila's reminiscences of their friendship (which I don’t normally like very much in this kind of a novel) were so real and so vivid that I found myself wanting to read another novel solely about that era, not as a reminiscence, but as it was actually happening. Catlin is a Kick-A character and an amazing (if unpredictable) friend to Mila, and the two of them are completely addictive.
Rosoff has an interesting style. This is the first of hers that I've read, so I can't say if it’s typical of her, but she doesn't use quotes around speech, which is actually fine because most of the time I really didn’t notice it, but sometimes it really hit me precisely because this novel is told 1PoV, so it can lead to problems in figuring out who said what, or even if something was said as opposed to merely thought.
Though she's American-born, Rosoff lives in London, and for the most part she uses English phrases correctly, but when it came to describing an important accident, she used the term 'tractor-trailer' which is an American term. In Britain it would be known as an 'articulated lorry', or just an 'artic' for short. Unless things have changed since I lived there (which they may well have since American influences are pervasive) this jumped out at me as inauthentic.
The accident in question is the one which killed Owen, Matthew and Suzanne's son. He was sitting in the back seat, with Matthew in the front. When the lorry somehow overturned onto the car, or hit it in the rear, Owen was killed. There is a question as to why he was in the back. Was Matthew actually having an affair and his paramour was in the front of the car? There were supposedly only two people in the car, and Matthew was found blameless, but I started wondering if his girlfriend was with them that night, and if she left the scene to avoid a scandal? You'll have to read this to find out.
Mila and Gil head off northwards, to see if Matthew has retreated to his cabin up there near Lake Placid, close to the Canadian border. Why Suzanne hasn’t already checked this - or the police did on her behalf - is left unexplained. Mila is texting her mom (who is in Holland playing violin), Catlin, and also Matthew. Matthew doesn’t respond. Not at first. Then comes back the response to "Where are you?" and it’s "I'm nowhere"
And that's all you're getting! I loved this novel, and highly recommend it as a worthy read.