Book review: Picture Me Gone, By Meg Rosoff

 

This latest stand-alone novel from Meg Rosoff is quite as original and engrossing as the five distinguished predecessors that started with the story of a future Britain under foreign domination in How I live Now, recently released as a film.

This time, she takes on an affectionate but complicated relationship between an elderly father, Gil, and Mila, his bright 12-year-old daughter. They travel to America from Britain in order to search for Matthew, once Gil's best friend, who has walked out from his young family and disappeared. Journeying from New York State to Canada in an old car as winter approaches, father and daughter have experiences in spades, staying at empty motels and marvelling at the protein abundance on offer for breakfast.

Drawing a blank at Matthew's hideaway mountain cabin, Mila gets to meet 15-year-old Jake, his abandoned son from a previous marriage. From things he says, and her own ability to read situations, Mila realises that all is not what it seems. What sort of best friend was Matthew? Is there a shameful secret from the past explaining his disappearance? Most unsettling, does Gil all this time know exactly where he has been hiding?

Mila's story now moves from domestic mystery to rite of passage as she becomes attached to Jake while also mending fences via text messages with a volatile best friend back home. Her relationship with her gentle but inscrutable father also starts to change, not for the worse but to another plane of understanding, as adult shortcomings become more obvious and the country which they are exploring begins to show a darker side.

Only 195 pages long, this witty story demands to be re-read once finished, with all the clues about what is going to happen now happily falling into place. Some excellent crossover novels have been written in the past decade, and those who have still to experience this still literary development could hardly do better than start with this accomplished author. Deceptively straightforward, her talent always ensures that, wherever her readers think the story is going, she always gets the last laugh.

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