Katie D’Amore, 16, hasn’t yet adjusted to her mother’s sudden death from cancer eight months earlier. Nor has her father, who won’t sleep in their old bedroom, and still sets a place for three each night at dinner. Katie doesn’t even talk to her best friends anymore, because they remind her of the good times, when her mother was alive. She can’t seem to get her mind around what happened:
“You can’t be as alive a Mom was, and then be dead. You can’t be singing so that your voice fills every room in a hand-me-down house, and then not be heard at all. The math doesn’t work.”
Over the summer, Katie takes a job helping in the gardens of the town recluse, Miss Martine, who has not been known to emerge from her house since 1954. Katie and others, including the cute brothers Danny and Owen Santopolo, work for the grounds caretaker Old Olson.
Soon, Katie starts to get curious about Miss Martine. Her own mother vanished involuntarily; why would anyone choose to vanish? She starts to do research at the library, helped by the fabulous fashionista librarian, Ms. McDermott. Danny, to whom Katie is attracted, shows up and helps comb through old local files alongside of Katie.
Katie’s dad Jimmy D’Amore restores paintings in a workshop next to the house, and ironically, he is now working on one that appears to show the Martine estate. Thus Katie, Danny, Ms. McDermott and Jimmy are drawn together in their pursuit of solving the mystery of Miss Martine. Katy has a secret agenda:
“…if I can solve the mystery of Miss Martine, maybe I can also solve the disappearing of my mom. Maybe I can get to the heart of fine lines and survival.”
Against all odds that Katie can calculate, “beautiful” Danny seems attracted to her. He says to her one day, right before he kisses her, “How come you were never in any of my classes? How did I miss out on you?” And Danny gives Katie a kiss she can remember when he leaves for Boston U. in the fall:
“When he bends, I stand tall and we meet in one sweet kiss. Danny Santopolo has kissed plenty of times, I can tell. He makes this one kiss last forever, until it’s me who falls back down to my real height.”
Soon after, Katie opens the locked door of her mother’s bedroom, lies on the bed, and opens the window:
“…I lean out as far as I can into summer – look forward, look down, upon Mom’s garden. I stand here making promises to myself – a daughter’s promises: to live my life with my eyes wide open. To honor exuberance, and color.”
Jimmy D’Amore too, has been coming back to life, thanks to the persistent “help” in his studio from a little neighbor boy Sammy, and to Ms. McDermott. Somehow love is bringing them all back to life. Katie says:
“Maybe love, I think, is the biggest thing there is. … Maybe loving once means some part of you is stuck loving forever – loving and chasing and living with whatever you’re lucky enough to remember.”
Evaluation: This book is full of lovely prose, as the examples above evince, but I’m not sure it seems realistic coming from the voice of a 16-year-old girl. When Katie first sees Danny, for example, she notices his “big head of lemon-colored curls” and describes his smile as “a toothy gleam.” The opening paragraph of the book is a little too poetic and confounded me:
“There are the things that have been and the things that haven’t happened yet. There is the squiggle of a line between, which is the color of caution, the color of the bird that comes to my window every morning, rattling me awake with the hammer of its beak.”
Nevertheless, it’s a touching and uplifting treatment of loss and recovery, and invests the process of mourning with respect and love for the past, and healing and optimism for the future.
Published by HarperTeen, 2009