"review" · comics/graphic novels · juvenile lit · recommend

geeks + grieving = fantastic read

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.

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend

camille on matters of unfairness.

6023847Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus by Kristen Tracy

Delacorte Press, 2009.

(hardback) 293 pages.

Fair: just, equitable, what is right.

Unfair: the life of Camille McPhee.

Imagine being Camille McPhee. She has low blood sugar, so she carries extra food in a cooler. Would you want to do that?

Didn’t think so.

And you wouldn’t want to fall under the school bus. That happened to Camille, too!

Her cat, Checkers, is lost. And her best friend, Sally, moved to Japan. It would be hard to stay optimistic, right? But Camille is what her mom calls hopeful. Because really? There are plenty of things to be positive about: gifted reading, a nonsqueaky mattress, eating banned foods, the big blue butterfly.

Even making a new friend. Imagine that!

~Publisher’s Comments.

There was something familiar about this read but it took me half-way through to figure it out–Junie B. Jones! The daughter read Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus… almost twice. When I mentioned the first person narrative voice reminded me of Junie B., the daughter concurred. The similar style isn’t a bad memory, but required adjustment all the same. I had to remember this was 10 year-old, 4th grade, Camille McPhee speaking, not Barbara Parks funny and endearing Kindergartner then 1st Grader Junie B. Jones. I had to adjust to the child narrator styling while reading a conversational first-person YA, a serious dystopian third-person YA, and Daniil Kharms (a well-written class of his own). Then there is the fact that the illustrated Camille on the cover reminds me of a writing professor I had once.

So if you and/or your child grew up as an early reader on the humorous antics and perspective of Junie B. Jones and Junie B., First Grader then Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus… is for you.

The antics are groan-worthy humor. You laugh and shake your head, sighing alongside Camille as she picks herself up off the ground, again. And yet, for all the humor and silliness, there is a great deal of seriousness in this story. Fairness/Unfairness can be a serious topic after all—especially if you throw in a parent’s arguments and eventual separation.

Camille’s mother likes to shop and spend money; money Camille’s father doesn’t feel they have. He is concerned about staying out of the hole. Mother is having a mid-life crisis at 40 and Father travels a lot for his job. Then there is the lying and half-truths. (The mother is rarely, if ever, viewed in the best light.) Besides the stress at home, there is all the neighborhood and school drama with which to deal.

Camille has decided to model her coping skills after the Dingoes she saw at the zoo once. She isolates herself to protect herself from making and losing another friend. This is difficult to do at times and it is a relief for everyone when she learns that maybe Dingoes are the best role models.

Camille McPhee is sincere and self-deprecating, and most importantly an optimist.

 

Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus… is charming–and encouraging. A well-told story filled with great characters with the irrepressible Camille McPhee at the center.

***

Starred Review, School Library Journal, November 2009:  “This book about friendship and loss kindly teaches that life is pretty much what one is willing to make of it.”

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2009:  “At heart, Camille’s a survivor, ‘born with the power to bounce back,’ which she does with surprising panache and hope in this touching debut.”

***

I came by this read via a recommendation on a book blog, but I bookmarked the seller’s site in my to-request-from-the-library-or-possibly-buy-outright folder. This error should only encourage me to (1) mind my marking and (2) get that blogroll list finished.