by Jennifer Maschari
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Hoooooooooooooly cow. Remember when I said the last middle grade book had all the feels and was a perfect 5 out of 5 stars? This one maybe deserves a 6. WOW. I’m still mulling over the metaphor in this one – there’s a lot here. Magical realism at its best, and that is a huge compliment from me, because I hate magical realism. You could also call this one fantasy, I suppose.
The story opens when Charlie Price is 12 years old, a few months after his mother dies from cancer and 6 months after his best friend disappeared after the death of his own beloved grandmother. Charlie is stuck going to grief group at school, but at least their friend Elliott is there, who lost her little brother, along with them both losing Frank. Charlie and his little sister, Imogen, also lose their father to his own grief as he is increasingly less available for them. One day, though, Imogen claims she has just come back from a secret world where she got to spend time with Mom. When Charlie follows her down the mysterious hatch that has appeared beneath her bed, he’s thrilled to see Mom again but his senses are soon on high alert – this “Not Mom” isn’t quite right. As Imogen spends more and more time in the other world, she begins to fade from this world. Finally, Charlie has to take action to save her, and winds up pulling everyone out of their own tailspins of grief.
As I mentioned, this is a powerful metaphor, especially if you’ve ever grieved for someone or experienced grief yourself, about memories, about what keeps you in that downward spiral and about who and what can get you out of it. It’s crucial, I think, that those who have also experienced a deep loss are the ones who can help, that you can all lean on each other. This other world is not real and there is something so compelling and yet so sinister about it. It’s just so, so beautifully done, and even a bit creepy.
DO NOT READ IN PUBLIC or you will become a sniveling hot mess / puddle of tears! I’m still piecing it together and rehashing it in my mind, but I’m sure there’s more to it than I’m remembering as this metaphor is incredibly rich. Also I read it in one day. Just heads up – you may want to do the same, so clear your schedule! One last note is that a dog dies along the way, which is another type of loss that might hit hard for some kids (or heck, even grownups).