Thursday, 8 May 2008

Finding Violet Park - Jenny Valentine

(Published in the US as Me, the Missing and the Dead.)

Lucas is almost sixteen when the story starts and he has just met Violet Park. In a cab office, on a shelf, in an urn. Yes, because Violet Park is dead, her remains where left in a cab years ago, and now her urn sits on a shelf, waiting for someone to come and collect it. Lucas finds himself inexplicably drawn to Violet, as if she had asked him for help.
Lucas loves making lists in his mind, and one of the first he makes is a list of all the good reasons to make friend with a dead lady in an urn:

1. A dead old lady would never be judgemental or lecture me like every other female on the planet.
2. If I decided to find out about her she might turn out to be the coolest most talented bravest person I’d ever heard of, and I might sort of get to know her without the hassle of her actually existing.
3. I would get to rescue her and I never did that for anyone before, and it sort of makes you need them too in your own way.
4. A dead old lady would be easy to like because she couldn’t leave any more than she had already.

That’s why, despite being aware that a boy of his age should be more interested in bringing home living girls instead of old dead ladies, he rescues her.

This story is not just about finding out who Violet Park is, though. The mystery of the old lady left in a cab is the background theme, but while Lucas finds out more and more about Violet, we get to know him and his family, which is what I loved most about the book.
Lucas’s dad disappeared when he was barely eleven, leaving him, his frustrated mother, his five year-old brother and his rebel teenage sister to cope with life without him. But Lucas has never lost hope to seeing him again, and instead of being angry at him for abandoning them, he idealises him. He wears his clothes and talks about him as if he were the greatest man in the world.
In the meantime his mother struggles to come to terms with her faith, wishing every day that she could go back in time and make different choices. While his sister avoids confronting reality by leading a reckless life.
The only one in the family who’s happy and carefree is Jed, the 5 year-old mascot, who everyone adores and cuddles.

It occurs to me that all most people do when they grow up is fix on something impossible and then hunger after it ... Jed doesn’t do it. He lives in the present tense only. I don’t think he’s any good at all at things like the past or the future. Even today and tomorrow and yesterday trip him up. Jed says yesterday when he means six months ago and tomorrow when he means not now. Also, when you’re going somewhere with Jed, he instantly forgets that you’re headed from A to B. He just spends ages looking at snails and collecting gravel and stopping to read signs along the way.
Jed is clueless about time and that means Jed is never sad or angry about anything for more than about five minutes. He just can’t hold on to stuff for long enough.

I love this passage because in few simple words it explains the so-called ”power of now” that everybody’s trying to achieve. And Lucas’ little brother, just by being a normal 5 year-old, with no concerns about past and future, already has that power. That’s why I love children so much, and it shows just how much we can learn from them.

Then there’s the grandparents, Pansy and Norman. They live in sheltered housing, and they’re hilarious. Pansy has theories about everything, she swears without actually saying the word, just mouths it, she is passionate about football but never learned the rules. Norman has being having tiny strokes that messed up his memory and now he doesn’t know his arse from his elbow. He can hardly remember he has two grandsons, but he and Jed have a great relationship. They laugh at Lauren and Hardy films and play Meccano together.
They are also allowed to take the dog out together, which is about the only time for both of them they get to go anywhere without a responsible adult.

I realise I’ve been quoting this book a bit too much but I can’t help it because it’s just so good almost every line is worth quoting.
This is a great example of what realistic young adult fiction should be. It has smart, quick, witty writing. It has a quirky theme, and yet its main character is someone anyone could relate to. It has a group of main characters so good you’re sad to let them go at the end. And finally, it has a mystery to solve, and a surprise ending that’s both satisfying and bittersweet. Not to mention the wonderful, irresistible cover, which attracted me at first like a bear to a jar of honey…

It’s a very quick read that leaves you wanting for more. That’s why I can’t wait to read Valentine’s next book Broken Soup. I looked for the author’s website, but she doesn’t seem to have one. I found out she lives in Hay-on-Wye though, which is known as the Town of Books! I’ve been wanting to go there for ages, it sounds and looks like Bookworm Heaven…Anyway, I found this short interview with a nice picture, so better than nothing!

other blog reviews
A Rainbow of books
three legged cat
Vulpe Libris
Darla at Books and Other Thoughts


Ana S. said...

Nick Hornby mentions Hay-on-Wye in the Polysyllabic Spree! It sounds like such a cool place.

I love the premise of this book and I love the first passage you shared. Thanks for yet another great review. And for adding to my wishlist one more time :P

valentina said...

oh really? I so have to get that book! hopefully I'm going for a week end this summer. I'm planning on bringing a empty suitcase to fill with books:)

I hope you'll read it one day. It's a quick and well-written read, so you shouldn't miss it!

Jill said...

Valentina - this sounds great! I just put it on hold at my library. In the U.S. it is published under the title Me, the Missing, and the Dead - just an FYI for your other American readers. Thanks for the review!

valentina said...

Thanks Darla, it's good to know. i just don't get they'd want to change the title...
I hope you can read it,and I hope you'll enjoy as much as me.

Jill said...

I don't get the title change either - I'm glad they put the other title as an alternate in my library's catalog or I'd never have found it. As it was I was initially baffled when this other book kept coming up! Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I started reading it yesterday, and I love it so far!

Lois (three-legged-cat) said...

I also really enjoyed this book.

It's been shortlisted for the Children's Book Award in Sheffield (my home city) which is why I was reading it. I think it's probably going to be the one that I vote for.

I also like your blog - I'll be coming back to read more of your reviews.