This is a story told from the point-of-view of twelve-year-old Mila, who travels with her father Gil from London to New York State during Easter break to visit his oldest friend Matthew. Mila’s mother, Marieka, cannot go as she has a violin concert that week.
Just before Mila and Gil depart, they learn from Matthew’s wife Suzanne that Matthew has gone missing. They decide to go anyway and help find out what happened to him. Mila is convinced she will be of great assistance, since she is very good at reading people and their subtexts just from observing their look, stance, tone, sensing their emotions, and so on. For this reason, she finds it appropriate that she has the same name as her grandfather’s dog, because she judges her skills as similar to those of a terrier. She is careful to clarify that it’s not because she’s “some sort of mystic”:
Most people don’t pay attention. They barge into a situation and start asking questions when the answers are already there. … I just see a constellation of tiny facts too small for other people to notice. I don’t specifically register each element of the constellation but the overall impression will be clear. The Bear. The Hunter. The Swan.”
[I think this theme would have been better served if Rosoff had not had Mila observe once that a waitress was pregnant, even though she herself did not yet know it.]
The loving relationship that characterizes Mila’s family of three is contrasted with the families of Mila’s best friend Catlin, and of Matthew, Suzanne, and their new baby Gabriel. Although at only age twelve, Mila doesn’t understand everything, she seems to be more perceptive than any of the adults. But sometimes, it’s a bit disconcerting:
Lynda keeps talking like there’s nothing at all weird about a sometimes lesbian, who may or may not be the mother of Gil’s best friend’s secret teenage son, flirting with my father. I feel dizzy.”
“Tell me,” she asks, “is there some huge adult conspiracy where people lead unimaginably complex lives and pretend it’s normal?”
The messiness of the adult world makes Mila appreciate the pristine beauty of a snowstorm even more:
We’ve left the town and are driving through a hilly landscape that’s white as far as the eye can see. Fences and stone walls have become soft slopes, and farmhouses wear high slouchy hats. Everything looks clean and new and I like this world of perfection despite knowing that all sorts of barbed wire and dead things lie beneath.”
Sometimes it makes her angry: “I am a child,” she wants to shout to her father: “Protect me.”
In the end, she settles on the knowledge that the world is “imperfect, dangerous, peppered with betrayals and also with love.” And she dreams of a future that, unlike the present, she knows nothing about.
Evaluation: I thought this book was very good, but I didn’t love it as much as Ana of Things Mean A Lot, so please also see her thoughtful review here for another take on this story. Nevertheless, I’m very happy I read it, and want to read more of this author’s work. She has won a number of awards, is quite well-regarded, and offers, in this story, an often lovely rumination on the powerlessness as well as the perceptiveness of childhood.
Note: Picture Me Gone was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (U.S.).
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2013