geeks + grieving = fantastic read

on

covermiloMilo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze

written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg

Aladdin (Simon & Schuster Children’s), 2010.

(hardback) 275 pages.

Loveable geek Milo Cruikshank finds reasons for frustration at every turn, like people who carve Halloween pumpkins way too soon (the pumpkins just rot and get lopsided) or the fact that the girl of his dreams, Summer, barely acknowledges his existence while next-door neighbor Hilary won’t leave him alone.

The truth is – ever since Milo’s mother died nothing has gone right. Now, instead of the kitchen being full of music, his whole house has been filled with Fog. Nothing’s the same. Not his Dad. Not his sister. And definitely not him. In love with the girl he sneezed on the first day of school and best pals with Marshall, the “One Eyed Jack” of friends, Milo copes with being the new kid (again) as he struggles to survive a school year that is filled with reminders of what his life “used to be.”

Brimming with heart, humor, and ultimately hope, Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze is a powerhouse of a novel that will stay with you well after you’ve turned the last page.~inside cover.

Melissa @ “Book Nut” wrote a really good review of Alan Silberberg’s Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze. Her mention of the book had me curious and requesting it from the Library. The daughter got ahold of it first (doesn’t the cover scream Middle-Grader?). She loved it and put it back in my pile, “This one is really good, mom.”

Despite the serious aspect of a 13 year old trying to keep going after his mother dies, a good portion of the setting is in the comedic (groaning) travails of Junior High (or Middle School for some of you).

That you know Milo is going to be humorous is evident from the first page.

Summer Goodman never knew what hit her. That’s because it was me, and as soon as I collided with her in the hallway—scattering every one of her perfectly indexed index cards—I disappeared into the mob of kids who’d arrived to help realphabetize her life.

I love Summer Goodman but she barely knows I exist, which I’m pretty okay with because when you love someone, they don’t have to do anything—and Summer does nothing, so I think it’s all going to work out great.

A few other things will become more noticeable. The nicely worded sentence. The serious couched in comedy. Feelings of embarrassment for the main character, Milo (who narrates).

In a way, Milo reads like a Steven Spielberg movie from the 80s, narrated by someone like Chunk from Goonies (1985) or DJ from Monster House (2006). Milo is at turns creepy/weird (naively-stalking boy) and pitiable (that sneeze was gross, but his optimistic thoughts about it were more so). Milo is also so human he grows on you. And I get the feeling plenty of readers will identify with him. Silberberg has captured the essence of plenty of 13 year old children (boy or girl). And then he adds the conflict of Loss and Grief.

The timeline of events leading up to the present are revealed throughout. The first pages are Milo’s life getting started at a new school/neighborhood. It isn’t until pages 13-14 that Milo begins to address his mother in the past tense, that you learn she was sick. Milo slowly unravels, even as the story tightens.

The progression of the story is nicely done. You move into the “fog”, the sadness and grieving, by degrees. Finding friends and interacting with the opposite sex. The awkward moments become more tender. Though there are still plenty of painful scenes. By the end, tears are sliding, but they are the good kind. Milo/Silberberg has a way of talking about the mother that is truly beautiful, and his struggles are wonderfully rendered.

milo2

Milo sneezing on, yes, Summer Goodman (2).

Silberberg does the illustrations in the book. They are a nice addition to the story (especially for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid). They keep to the light and comic and youthful. Their moments are no less poignant when necessary, a nice accompaniment.

Milo takes the weighty and keeps it afloat, determinedly so. This is a book about mourning and moving forward that is accessible to a greater audience than most. Quite fantastic. And it can just be plain fun. Some growing pains of the flinching sort, the kind most could laugh over, and a sweet lessons learned ending. Really, the ending is wonderful.

The suggested ages are 9-13. I agree. Boys, girls, readers, non-readers, comic lovers, literati…

Grown-ups could enjoy this as well, a fairly quick read. As a mother, I was effected by the read, thinking about my time spent with my family and my roles in the household…remembering with deep sighs what it was to be 13 and the weirdness we all harbor that makes us individuals and quite awesome… A good read, a good afternoon spent.

******

Thinking about Silberberg’s humorous treatment of the story, despite the depression at the core, I am reminded of Kirsten Tracy’s Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus (Yearling, 2010), who’s protagonist deals with fighting parents—which I would recommend (though I think girls 8-12 would dig it over boys of the same age).

Alan Silberberg’s site.

another review of Milo I happened across at “Chocolate Air.”

my post on Camille McPhee.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Hello L – I just wanted to thank you for the lovely review of Milo. As you can imagine the story is very personal for me and it means a lot to see that the book is getting into welcoming hands.

    All the best –

    Alan Silberberg

    1. L says:

      thank you.

      Milo was a pleasure to read, thanks for giving us his story. I really love the way he loves his mom, the way he speaks of her. You have beautiful words, Mr. Silberberg.

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