Overall Impression: Astoundingly honest, raw and insightful.
There’s nowt so queer as folk, as Gil the father of the main protagonist in Picture Me Gone would say, and he sure was right.
I had no idea what to expect when I picked up this novel. I had originally seen Pretty Books mention it over on her blog, and although I had never heard of the author the beautiful cover beckoned to me. A couple of weeks later my highly classified informant at my favourite second hand bookshop, knowing I had a love of YA literature, tipped me off that they had a new batch of brand new rejected review copies coming in. The YA doesn’t tend to sell as well at the shop and I also got in early, so I pretty much had the pick of the bunch. I rifled though the four or five massive boxes and found Picture Me Gone among them. I knew that it was a reasonably new release from 2013 (the current RRP is £9) and although I had plenty of other books to be getting on with I couldn’t resist. I bought it for a sneaky £2.49. It’s probably the best £2.49 I’ve ever spent. 🙂
Mila has a gift.
She can read a room, a person, a situation – and tell if you’re happy, or pregnant, or having an affair.
When her father’s best friend, Matthew goes missing, Mila joins in the search.
She sees clues no one else notices, facts everyone else overlooks.
But the answers refuse to line up and Matthew refuses to be found.
Is there something Mila has missed?
Something closer to home than she ever imagined?
I’m going to try hard not to give too much of this book’s plot away because I think it’s better that you go in blind, as I did. It’s YA contemporary (I wasn’t even sure of that until I started reading, the blurb is a bit elusive) and follows a young girl named Mila on a road trip across America/Canada with her father in search of his missing friend. In this way I would also class it as a mystery. The odd thing is if someone had described the storyline of Picture Me Gone to me I wouldn’t of had any interest in reading it, this is definitely one of those books you can’t prejudge.
As always with my five star reviews I am worried that I won’t do this book justice, but I’ll give it my best shot!
Meg Rosoff is a fascinating writer. Her style is bizarre but distinct and has a sort of understand brilliance about it. I have a feeling it will divide readers, causing just as many people to hate this novel as well as love it. When I first begun the book I felt despair creeping in, I didn’t like the short opening chapter at all and wondered what I had gotten myself into. The writing was strange; at points I even had trouble understanding it. I was already beginning to judge it as a failure when all of a sudden it just clicked. I started to relax into her style and it became poetic, magnetic and powerful. For the most part her use of language is simple but at the same time incredibly insightful from little everyday observations, a silly turn of phrase or an offhand comment to tackling the big questions in life such as growing up, resentment and broken relationships. Every time I picked up the book to read a couple of chapters I would find myself sitting in awe afterwards, completely blown away and buzzing after what I had read. Rosoff has such an ability to condense complex topics into a few simple sentences and it really gets you thinking, whether about the book specifically, the issues it tackles or even life in general.
The most distinctive aspect of her writing though has to be her banishment of speech marks. I had never come across this in a novel before, only in one or two unmemorable short stories. I understand that some readers may find this confusing or frustrating but to me it added a refreshing twist. The effect it had on me as a reader was compelling, it gave me the impression of being very much permanently stuck in the main characters head so that I felt more immersed in the story. I loved it!
‘I’m trying to be methodical, I say – slightly pointedly, because he never is. I’m trying to organize the possibilities. Once we’ve done that, it will make our job a little easier.
Oh, you think so?
Yes, I do. I look over at him. He’s facing forward because he’s driving, but he swivels an eye on me.
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.’ – Pg 65
Now, this is not what I would call a plot driven novel. Although there is the mystery of a missing friend that propels the story forwards there is not a lot of action. To be formulaic about it Mila and her dad, Gil drive around meeting people that provide a slow trickle of clues alluding to Matthew’s disappearance. There are a few sub stories going on too that added further dimensions to the book. Picture Me Gone is more on the subtle side, focusing on Mila’s impressive perceptive ability to pick up on clues that even the adults don’t notice. She doesn’t discover people’s secrets by interrogating them CSI style or rifling through their secret possessions, it is all through observing and listening to people’s conversations, using the power of deduction until only a few options remain. It was so satisfying watching Mila play around with the fragments, twisting and turning them to form a picture that finally made sense. I had no clue how the events would play out all the way to the end of the novel and I have to applaud Rosoff for this because I tend to be pretty intuitive. The plot kept a consistent pace throughout and the culmination of the mystery was so truthful and raw that it gave me shivers. This is only a small novel at 195 pages but it suits the story perfectly. I can see now that some might be unsatisfied with the ending but I felt it was in keeping with the book’s style. This is not a novel that gives you all the answers, it simply creates more questions.
The beauty of this book to me lies with its characters. The narrator Mila was so fascinating, especially her thought processes. Her father often calls her perguntador – Portuguese for someone who asks too many questions, and this seemed an accurate description. Mila is constantly analysing the world around her with such profound intelligence far beyond her years, and yet the juxtaposition of this with a few childish elements (such as getting frustrated that the first words out of every American’s mouth is that they like her accent) makes her believable and realistic. I also enjoyed her clichéd realisation that even the adults don’t have everything figured out. I liked that she had a multicultural heritage as well which is something you don’t often see in Young Adult literature. The oddest and perhaps most interesting element of Mila’s character I felt, was that I never had a clear visual picture of her in my head. I don’t remember ever getting a paragraph describing what she looked like in detail and the character’s age wasn’t revealed until half way through the book leaving a lot up to the imagination. Some readers of course will find this annoying but I liked the ambiguity. These days we have become so obsessed with visualising characters and it was nice to just feel one for once. It gave an odd sense or presence.
The secondary characters were just as vibrant. I adored every cameo role. Each had their own well thought out place in the story. Mila’s father, Gil was far more rounded than your average YA parent, the book dug a lot into his past as well as the present. His job was to translate books and I actually learnt a lot of interesting information along the way. Matthew the missing friend made a great enigma and I was surprised but pleased with how dark his story became. Mila’s best friend Catlin provided some fun backstory and was so well fleshed out considering she had little page time. I also really warmed to Jake, a friend Mila made along her journey. Again although he had a small role his presence added another layer to the book that made a lasting impression on me.
I can’t explain enough how blown away I was by Picture Me Gone, but not in your stereotypical way. This is not a book with intense drama like Divergent that makes you wave it about in people’s faces, it’s on a deeper and more subtle level. It’s a novel that you pass to someone with a knowing smile and a reassuring hand gesture, as if you’ve just let them into a secret club that will give them a vital piece of insight into the world. Perhaps that would sound odd to most people, but I’m hoping some of my fellow bookworms will get what I mean. 🙂
Would I check out some of Rosoff’s other books? Absolutely. I can honestly say I have never read a book like this one before, it was unique and after turning the last page I immediately wanted to read it all over again. I have tended to shy away from contemporary (or what I prefer to call ‘realistic’) fiction for quite some time, I’m not sure why. But Picture Me Gone has encouraged me to try out some more. It could be a brave new world!
I would recommend this book to any male or female looking for a story a little out of the ordinary. I’m sure that it would appeal to anyone who enjoys a contemplative, thoughtful story. Although it has a few dark elements it ultimately remains a fun and easy read suitable for anyone 11+. Once again I feel like this is a great novel many people will miss out on simply because of its YA label but don’t be fooled, Picture Me Gone is well worth your time! 🙂
It was so hard to pick just a few quotes from this book because I wanted put everything on here! But here’s a selection:
‘So much of translating, Gil once told me, takes place in an imaginary space where the writer and the translator come together. It is not necessary to sympathize with the writer, to agree with what he’s written. But it is necessary to walk alongside and stay in step. It’s harder, he says, when the other person has a bad limp or stops and starts all the time or moves erratically. It is hardest of all when the story comes from a place the translator himself can’t go.’ – Pg 193
‘So far, nothing earth-shattering has happened between us, but just talking about anything can be big when you’re on the same wavelength. I’ve noticed that the magic of getting on with someone isn’t really magic. If you break it down you can see how it happens. You say something a bit off-centre and see if they react. If they get it, they push it a bit further. Then it’s your turn again. And theirs. And so on, until it’s banter. Once it’s banter, it’s friendship.’ – pg126
‘I wonder at what point a child becomes a person. Does it happen all at once, or slowly, in stages? Is there an age, a week, a moment, at which all the secrets of the universe are revealed and adulthood descends on a cloud from heaven, altering the brain forever? Will the child-me slink off one day, never to return? I can’t imagine living a real life, or how I’ll ever be an adult. It seems like such an unlikely transformation. Someday I will be someone’s partner or someone’s mother or someone’s forensic pathologist.’ – Pg 135 (I had the cut the last bit of the quote as it contained spoilers).
Writing Style: 5/5
Character Development: 5/5
Would I recommend this book? Go buy it noooooooow!!!!
*Also, since I originally bought this the paperback has been released so it is available cheaper now! Hint. Hint.*
Overall Impression: 5/5
Book Cover: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13639446-picture-me-gone