Mathilda Savitch’s beautiful older sister Helene has been dead a year and she and her parents can’t get over it. Searching for some sort of closure, Mathilda breaks into Helene’s e-mail account and contacts one of Helene’s boyfriends, hoping he can provide answers to the mystery of Helene’s demise.
This novel is all about what grief can do to families. How it pulls them apart and shuts them down. Mathilda’s parents, especially her mother, can’t deal. They withdraw, and Mathilda resorts to acting out to get their attention – dropping plates, inviting boys over to spend the night in her basement, chopping off her hair.
Because the novel is from the limited viewpoint of a rather disturbed pre-teen, whether you enjoy the novel or not depends on how taken you are with the narrative voice. Mathilda has that particular self-absorption common to her girls her age (never explicitly mentioned, but likely 12) as well as a morbid curiosity and a tendency towards precocious observations that make her seem wise beyond her years.
“Sometimes I feel bad for the house as much as anything. Standing there completely stuck and having to put up with all of us. Do you ever think of the lives of houses? I mean the walls and the doors themselves, not the people inside. (…) The thing is, I don’t want to end up like Ma and Da. In a house with books and dust and all the love gone out of it. (…) I want something else, but the words for it haven’t been invented yet. At this point it’s just a bunch of mumbling in my stomach.” (p 218-219, ARC, may vary from final published version)
There’s really not much in the way of plot, and although the visit to Helene’s boyfriend yields a revelation of sorts, you aren’t entirely sure you can trust it, because Mathilda can be quite the unreliable narrator.
It’s ok, but there are any number of better books about grief and any number of wacked out characters that are more fun to spend time with than Mathilda.
MATHILDA SAVITCH was released in paperback this week. Find out more about it at the author’s website.