Book Review: Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone

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‘The mystery of the whole Matthew situation makes me wonder if he carries a secret so devastating that the world would tilt if it found out. Or is it only devastating in his head?’

Reading Ages: 11+
Category: Mystery Fiction
Overall Rating: ★★★
(Minor spoilers within this review.)

Although the extract above would suggest otherwise, Picture Me Gone is not, as Mysteries go, quite as mind-bending as a reader would like. The ending is not expected, but neither does it shock; the same can be said for the hints and clues along the way (although this can be accounted for by the tender age – twelve – of the narrator). Furthermore, Meg Rosoff uses her size 16 font and 195 pages to highlight the blindingly obvious fact that this is a children’s’ book. Or is it?

Throughout the novel, I felt I was being given mixed messages concerning Mila. For a good number of chapters, I was torn between the way she was treated – as a girl of around fourteen or fifteen – and the way she narrated – as a seven year old. Her recounted behaviours, her memories of her best friend Catlin and her responses and interactions with other characters all suggested a young girl in the middle of her journey through primary school. And yet many other facts pointed towards someone on the cusp of adulthood such as Catlin’s behavioural shifts and swearing. I was left confused and unsatisfied in the inconsistency.

One aspect of the novel which did intrigue me, however, was Rosoff’s use of reported speech throughout. This was immediately recognisable as a way of immersing the reader in the mind and thoughts of the narrator – and, of course, this being a mystery, there’s nothing the author wants more than to give us an imperfect, incomplete view of things – as well as characterising Mila further. This added interest up to a point, but the characterisation did not go deep enough for the effects to really shine through till the very end of the book, and therefore blended into the simple writing and basic language structure.

A few things, I thought, we unrealistic, too: for example, Mila’s complete ignorance of American culture. These days, we as product consumers are constantly exposed to culture, especially from across the pond; aspects of American culture such as hunting seasons are known, featured in kids’ animated films, in TV series, in advertisements. Her oblivious nature simply didn’t fit the character, and made it hard to believe that she could possibly know the facts used to create her deductions while solving the mystery.

Although I was able to tear Picture Me Gone apart and see fault in many places, I did not feel like giving up on it; it held just enough of my attention for me to want to see the answers at the end, which I suppose could suggest that for the younger audience for which I believe it was intended, it could prove a far more enjoyable endeavour than it was for me. Therefore, a three-star rating, but only for eleven to fourteen year olds.

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