Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Picture Me Gone, by Meg Rosoff

Picture Me Gone tells the story of super-attentive spy enthusiast Mila (named after a dog) and her father Gil. They are about to visit Gil's old friend Matthew in New York when they hear via his wife that he has disappeared- leaving her, their new baby and his beloved dog behind. He took no luggage, left no note- simply left one day for work and never made it. Deciding to go anyway with the new objective of finding him, Gil and Mila embark on a road trip across New York State, Mila piecing together the scraps of information she has about her dad's friend she barely remembers, trying to build a picture of his life.

Mila believes that she is more attuned to details than a regular person and has a sixth-sense insight into other people's emotions. She can tell if they're having an affair, if they're pregnant or hiding something, if they're lonely or depressed and covering it up. Kind of like Sherlock, but more emotionally pliable. She's smart and perceptive, and the line between her speech and thoughts and the speech of others is kind of blurred because there are no speech marks. She's very tied up in language and nuance, as is her father, as he is a translator of Portuguese.

As their investigation leads them further and further into Matthew's life, Mila begins to see how complicated the adult world can be and how well her father's friend has kept his turmoil hidden from the eyes of everyone he knows. There are lies, secrets, regrets and deep, deep grief- the narrative begins to offer up three possible scenarios, drawing Mila and her mild mind reading ability closer and closer to the tragic truth. It's a bumpy induction to the messy, destructive world of adults for Mila- though she's incredibly mature, it must still be an eye opener for her to see that her family's haphazard, artistic happiness might be something relatively rare.

It's a story really about friendship and the various ripples across time that can break them apart. Mila herself is experiencing this for the first time- she considers the painful growing apart of herself and her best friend whose unhappiness has led her into a new group of smoking, troublesome and boy-obsessed friends. She also finds that she unexpectedly makes new friends, more promising friends that just click- just as Gil discovers some old ones by happy accident. The book really demonstrated the fragility of friendship and the invisible connective web that spans a person's life and actions- the repercussions and effects that one decision or secret can have on a whole network of people. Picture Me Gone really shows that connections between people can be both fragile and strong at the same time and that the foundations of trust, support and history can be shattered in an instant.

It's worth mentioning too that at its heart it's a really lovely story about a strong bond between an unconventional father and his equally unconventional daughter. I really liked that. Most children's books kind of tidy the parents away early on so they don't interfere with the adventure- it's nice here to see a dual-generation adventure. Yes you could argue it's much less of an adventure, much less of a mystery than it appears initially, but it's an important journey for Gil and Mila nonetheless.

As with Rosoff's other books, Picture Me Gone is an insightful and emotional story that closely examines personal relationships and the connections between people. It's sparse in its action, but filled with beautiful prose and important discoveries and realisations that litter the path between childhood and adulthood. A really enjoyable read that keeps the reader guessing and marvelling at Mila's abilities.

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