Monday, February 09, 2009
A High Class Mystery
I like a British YA voice. I think it's because of the novelty of hearing someone talk about a "bloke fancying my mum" and "tenners." So I was taken with Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine right away. I did wonder if there is a first-person British YA voice that sounds similar in many British YA books the way there's a first-person YA voice over here that most definitely makes a lot of YA books sound alike. But I decided I didn't care.
Lucas, our first-person British YA voice in Me, the Missing, and the Dead, could easily have ended up as the protagonist in a traditional problem novel. Dad is missing. Mum is depressed. Older sister is behaving badly. Younger, fatherless brother never knew Dad, having been born after he disappeared. Grandpa has dementia. Grandma's a corker but falls and breaks something so you know how that's going to go. Family friend is an alcoholic. Girlfriend's mother has cancer.
I mean, seriously, this is the kind of book I usually find laughable because of the problem pile on. Let's not miss anything.
But Lucas has that great voice, and he has a mystery to solve. The problem-ridden characters are just that--characters and not set-ups for some kind of coming-of-age learning experience. The adult characters, in fact, are so incredibly multi-layered that Me, the Missing, and the Dead could easily serve as a crossover book, a great title for an adult/teen reading group.
Right off the bat Lucas stumbles upon an urn of ashes that has been abandoned in a taxi company's office. Feeling for the neglected occupant, he manages to get custody and becomes obsessed with it. And, slowly, he realizes that the ashes that were once an elderly woman have a connection to his own father's disappearance.
There's a little twist of what might be called magical realism in this otherwise dark, deep mystery told with attitude. And Lucas could be said to have evolved as a result of his experience solving the puzzle of the urn. But the mystery is the point here, not some story of a child learning to live with a sorry state of affairs.
Jenny Valentine has another book coming out next month, Broken Soup.