*This review will contain spoilers!*
‘Picture Me Gone’ is the first Meg Rosoff novel I’ve read, but I’m coming away from the experience feeling distinctly disappointed and still filled with questions, which is frustrating as heck when I’d heard so many good things about her books.
‘Picture Me Gone’ tells the story of Mila, a 12 year old Londoner who goes on a trip to New York with her father in an attempt to find her father’s best friend who recently left home unexplained. As you can expect by that summary, the majority of the story is based around the mystery of where Matthew has disappeared to, why and whether they can find him.
The writing style of this novel is one of the most unusual things I’ve ever read, but it’s not in a good way. All of the speech is reported, meaning that none of the talking is actually placed in quotation marks. At the start of the book I found this quite jarring and unpleasant, but by the end of the novel I was used to it so it wasn’t affecting me too badly, but there were still some sections in which the reported speech and the general narration of the scene were easily confused. An example of this would be “Use a plate, Lynda says to Jake, and picks one up from a shelf behind the table. I take it from her and she thanks me, then turns back to Gil. I really do wish I could help. But I don’t have any idea of where he might be. I don’t even know who his friends are.” The first time I read this, I read the “I really do wish I could help” as part of Mila’s internal thought structure, to which I thought that she could easily help just by passing him the plate, but after another read through I realised that it was back to Lynda’s speech to Gil, which wasn’t exactly obvious at the first encounter. I still can’t actually find a good reason for the decision to use this writing style; yes, it could have just been chosen to make the book seem edgy and unusual in a market that hasn’t started to repeat itself extremely frequently, but it still didn’t exactly make sense and if other Meg Rosoff books are written in this style I don’t think I’m going to be picking up as many as I had planned to.
Similarly, Mila’s voice is very unusual, to the point that it just doesn’t combine well with her character. She’s a twelve year old, which is very obvious through many of her actions (such as getting stroppy and sending Matthew some pretty abrasive texts, or getting angry with her father and proceeding to throw snowballs at their motel window), but her voice is that of a much older person to the point where it becomes uncomfortable to read. Sometimes she seems more childlike, but if a twelve year old announces “How did it come to this? The furious me hurling snowballs at a motel window? The me despising my father?” it just seems she has much too much self-awareness to only be twelve and, with the first half of the novel including her complaining multiple times about how little knowledge she has about the world due to her age, it just doesn’t seem to compute.
Despite the fact that I didn’t particularly understand why Mila was written in the way that she was or why the writing style was chosen, there were other issues that led to me coming away from this book feeling more muddled than resolved. Towards the climax of the novel, after Mila and Gil have met up with Matthew, she looks into Matthew’s eyes and just knows that Honey the dog was in the front of the car on the night that Matthew’s son Owen died, which is why Owen was sat in the back, and she just knows that Matthew is planning upon killing himself. It appears that by jumping to conclusions she finds the right answers, because when she confronts Matthew about planning to kill himself he isn’t outraged or in denial, but we never really get any answers as to how she works this out so easily. Throughout the novel she is apparently using the power of perception to analyse situations and work everything out in record time, but it would be really nice if we got to see the signs that caused her to jump to that conclusion, instead of just the description that “I meet Matthew’s eyes. […] It sucks me down into a furious black fog, a muttering hell. I struggle in the cloying dark”. Similarly, in the last two or three chapters, Mila describes herself as going into their heads instead of as just being extremely empathetic and working out their emotions through that type of observation, so I’m left with a confusion about when the shift was made.
The final thing that annoyed me about the novel was how open ended it was left. From what I know this is a standalone novel, but we never find out whether Matthew does actually commit suicide, we never get any more details about Catlin, Mila’s best friend, and that just leaves me with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Throughout the novel it was telling us the parallel stories of two best friends: Gil and Matthew, Catlin and Mila. But we never get any kind of resolution with Catlin and Mila’s story – we know that Catlin’s parents have gotten divorced, she’s been smoking weed and drinking a lot and she has basically ignored Mila for the last however many months, but we never find out whether they actually become friends again or whether she’s actually looking for a resolution. It just seems a bit pointless to follow the story of two teenage schoolgirls who are attempting to revive the friendship between them, just to get a lot of random flashbacks and the knowledge that she wants an Easter egg not for the chocolate but as “a sign”.
Other than these negatives, I can appreciate what Meg Rosoff was attempting to do with this novel. It sets up a lot of good questions about how we know when we’re really grown up (despite the fact that they’re being placed by a twelve year old) and the differences between adults and children in the cold light of day. Mila’s questioning of “I wonder at what point a child becomes a person” and then saying later “I want to go back to being a child” demonstrates perfectly the problem in society of everyone attempting to grow up too fast and then regretting it, and her comment about Suzanne being “one of those people who thinks that just because I’m young I’m blind to what’s true and what’s not” is something I’ve personally experienced multiple times. I do think that this novel is most definitely centered towards a younger audience, as any older readers might feel negatively towards some of Mila’s actions and observances. I will admit I did think she was being rather childish when she discovered that her father had been lying towards her, as in the grand scheme of things that wasn’t the worst thing that he could have done, but I can understand where the novel was coming from and what she was attempting to deal with using it. I might read another of her novels in the future, but at the moment I’m not completely obsessed with the idea.