This book… is unflinching, unrelenting, and honest. It is, as is everything (my friend, full disclosure) Liz Garton Scanlon writes, beautifully characterized and well plotted. The conflict is realistic and the emotional resonance rings oh, so true. It is painfully raw, and it exhibits magical thinking in the complex and complete ways that hurting people indulge in it. But it was still SO, so hard to read. This is a three-hanky affair, as the loss is huge – but the walk through the valley of shadow is worth taking for the discovery of starlight on the other side.
Millie sees the world in terms of unexplored punchlines. Her older sister is the perfect straight (wo)man, because she gets so annoyed when Millie keeps punning and teasing. Millie is the queen of improv, and she is a natural born comedian. She seems to be naturally big-hearted and joyful as well, and when she gets the opportunity to babysit the next door neighbor’s little one when her older sister, their usual sitter, can’t make it, she’s so pleased. She feels strong and mature and is exited that finally, people can see she’s growing up. And it all goes so well. The baby, Lolo, sleeps angelically, her little chest rising and falling, a delicate flush on her chubby cheeks.
Millie is the last person to see Lolo breathing. And in the aftermath of that terrible evening, it feels like that was also Millie’s last night to be happy. Except for the light she sees shining from Lolo’s bedroom – a sign that she’s somehow still there – Millie would be afraid that she could never be happy again.
After Lolo is gone, the world is way too big, and way too complicated. The simple science project of hatching eggs into baby chicks seems like A Lot for eighth graders. How are they supposed to sustain such tiny sparks of life? How are they supposed to protect the baby chicks when apparently sometimes people just die, for no reason?
And, then, the light from Lolo’s window… dims, and goes out.
Was it ever really there at all?
Grief and loss color everything, and Millie questions everyone and everything. She’s enraged and off-balance and wrung out and worrying her family and teachers. Nobody knows what to do for her – because no one can make her un-know the truth, that sometimes, inexplicably, things happen in this world over which we have absolutely no control.
How do we go on? As Scanlon notes in the jacket copy, we find our way. And for those readers hurting through an unimaginable loss, grappling with raw, complicated feelings, and afraid that this is all there is, and all there ever will be, this book is the promise that they, too, will find their way.
It’s unimaginably, unspeakably hard – so, so hard. But like Millie, we can make it.
Until the next book, 📖
Still A Constant Reader