A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Picture Me Gone features some mature material, including the death of a young teen in a car accident, a man with a secret family, a bisexual woman with a girlfriend, and a man who's contemplating suicide. Some adult characters drink, smoke, swear, and talk about very adult topics, even when the main character, 12-year-old Mila, or another child is around. Still, the message running through the book is about loving the family and friends in your life, including when they're going through difficult times and making choices you don't support. Mila's an observant person who tries to protect those she cares about. Her family, which includes her professional musician mother and translator father, is described as happy and healthy: When Mila's sad to be apart from her mother, she knows, "We are three. Even when we are just two, we are three."
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What's the story?
The day before Mila and her father are supposed to leave London to visit America, her father's lifelong best friend -- whom they're going to see -- goes missing. They travel together anyway, and observant Mila begins to put together clues, like how his unhappy wife seems to be living a separate life, even with a new baby. She discovers an even bigger secret when they drive up to the friend's cabin in snowy upstate New York. Even as Mila puts together the answers to one mystery, she makes other, big discoveries about what it means to be a friend, to be a family, and to grow up.
Is it any good?
The heart of the plot of PICTURE ME GONE is pretty adult; in fact, the book's set more in the the world of adults than that of children. Even so, there are so many rich and wonderful details here that make it a good choice for sophisticated teens. For example, Mila's dad is a translator who says that, to do his job, "It is not necessary to sympathize with the writer, to agree with what he's written...it is necessary to walk alongside and stay in step." This parallels his ability to stand by his friend, even when he doesn't understand his hurtful actions.
The mystery around the missing man's story will keep readers engaged, but it's really Mila, her neat family, and the keen observations about people and life gleaned by the girl who's "good at solving puzzles" that make up the most memorable pieces.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it means to be a friend. Do you have to understand or agree with all your friend's choices? What would you do if your friend had a terrible secret?
Mila is very critical of America's love of hunting -- and of the big meals that she and her father are served at diners along the way. What do you think about her observation that there is "darkness" everywhere she looks?
Picture Me Gone deals with some pretty adult material including adultery, a dead child, and a suicidal adult. What age would you recommend for this book? Or do you agree with Mila that "[a]ge is not always the best measure of competence"?
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