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Picture Me Gone

Cover of Picture Me GonePicture Me Gone, Meg Rosoff
Putnam Juvenile, October 2013
Reviewed from ARC

Picture Me Gone. It’s earned five stars. It’s on three 2013 best lists*, and it was a National Book Award finalist.

What am I missing?

I’ve read it twice now and my reaction is still just, “meh.” There are no glaringly obvious flaws, but this is the kind of book that just floats out of one’s consciousness the moment you finish the last sentence. Unlike There is No Dog, which I actively loathed (and it didn’t get much love here on the blog), I feel ambivalent toward this book. Part of that feeling is due to that ephemeral quality I mentioned before, but I think it’s also because this is ultimately good but forgettable work.

Meg Rosoff is brilliant at accessible stream-of-consciousness writing. She uses the narrative style here with Mila, the highly perceptive twelve-year-old who is also the novel’s narrator. Being so close to Mila’s thought process makes sense when you are telling the story of a young girl who is able to make connections that are invisible to others; this is when the style and voice are best and strongest.

But Mila herself is not as interesting as the technique that creates her. She’s a precocious, unusual child but even these qualities do not make her particularly noteworthy. Mila is the observant puzzle solver who couldn’t see the obvious answer to the mystery of her father’s missing friend. Although this character development works well enough, it ends up being a bit overshadowed with Mila’s hurt that her parents kept her in the dark about Matthew, followed by her rationalization for dishonesty and secrets in general. There are flawed, complicated adults but we see them in vignettes through Mila’s eyes who, in comparison, is too well-adjusted to really care about.

Likewise, the prose is technically well done—and sometimes achingly gorgeous—but it builds a story that isn’t meaningful. Mila’s thoughts often turn to her friend, Catlin whose parents are going through a messy divorce. Referring to Catlin, Mila thinks, “…if my family had been like hers, I might have been equally desperate to come up with the right combination of prime numbers to make the world safe again.” This sentence breaks my heart every time I read it, but it leads nowhere. Mila has already come to terms with why Catlin is sometimes a distant friend even at the beginning of the novel, where this quote appears, so it’s a nice sentence that doesn’t have much significance to the book as a whole.

The larger problem is that both times I read this book, I found myself thinking, “what’s the point?” by the end. There are no major thematic revelations about honesty or relationships, the mystery of the missing friend that sets the plot in motion is really just a MacGuffin, and Mila’s emotional resolution comes too late (and too easy) to be moving. All summer I tried to pinpoint why I didn’t consider this book to be a major contender, but I think it’s similar to the problem I have with Far Far Away; the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Here again I ask the question I posed at the beginning of this review. What am I missing? Is it possible I hold Meg Rosoff to an impossible standard because of my strong love for how i live now? Convince me in the comments, because I would love to see this book in another light.

*New York Times Book Review Notable Books for Children, Kirkus Best Children’s Books, Publishers Weekly

About Joy Piedmont

Joy Piedmont is a librarian and technology integrator at LREI - Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School. Prior to becoming a librarian, Joy reviewed and reported for Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch. She reviews for SLJ and is the President of the Hudson Valley Library Association. When she’s not reading or writing about YA literature, she’s compulsively consuming culture of all kinds, learning to fly (on a trapeze), and taking naps with her cat, Oliver. Find her on Twitter @InquiringJoy, email her at joy dot piedmont at gmail dot com, or follow her on Tumblr. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, HVLA or any other initialisms with which she is affiliated.


  1. Joy, I was left with a very similar feeling of “meh” about this book, though I would rate it slightly closer to There is No Dog than you (as in, I despised TiND and I didn’t think a whole lot more of this one). Despite feeling that Rosoff uses some great techniques and I was also awed by her strong sentence-level writing, it felt like more of an exercise to me than a fully fleshed out novel. (She may be a victim of the high-bar standard, a la Sara Zarr, too.)

  2. Elizabeth Burns says:

    So far, this is my favorite Rosoff book. However, I wouldn’t have it in my top 5, going to the table to argue for books.

    That said, I wonder at one part of your review: “too well-adjusted to really care about.” Mila is in a place of not wanting much: a loved, cared for only child who has had a fairly easy life. But does that really mean that one doesn’t care for her? Or that she’s not worth a book, or that book an award? Isn’t there something to be said about having books — including Award winning books — about kids like Mila, especially as there are readers like Mila who will identify with her more so than with, say, the more interesting Catlin or whatever the boy’s name is?

    The point of the book overall is that while Mila’s realizations of the secrets the adults hold from her may not be as “big” as what is found in a so-called problem novel or fantasy or historical fiction, it is huge to her — and huge to a certain type of teen who is just like Mila, in that yes, the discovery that an adult holds back secrets will be something new and huge to them, and will signal the end of childhood for them. This may be more subtle than other books; or, perhaps, more a coming of age for a certain type of privileged child; but I think it is just as important a point, and will resonate will certain readers.

    • Joy Piedmont says:

      To your first point, it’s not that I don’t care for Mila as a character (I feel kind of ambivalent towards her), I don’t find her or her story interesting enough for a book.That being said, you make an excellent point about there being a place for books about teens who aren’t facing huge issues.

      However, the more that I think about it–and I’ve discussed this with Karyn over the past two days–I don’t actually think this book works as a YA book and that’s why I read it as flawed. As a children’s or middle grade novel, I absolutely agree with you; that Mila’s realization about adult secrecy is a big deal and a end-of-childhood event. But for teenagers, they’ve already had that moment and have moved on to self-discovery, identity formation, and finding their place in the world. None of these things happen here, which doesn’t make it a bad or flawed book; it’s just not YA.

      • Elizabeth Burns says:

        The YA/not YA thing for the Printz: I go with the publisher imprint, and leave it at that. But now (and not about this book) the idea of whether or not this is a YA book or a child’s book based on the end-of-childhood event already happening intrigues me. I’m not quite sure I agree, especially as “childhood” extends later and later, and that puts YA into something independent of age as a category.

        With a side that since this is an award for as young as 12, Mila’s story would work for the 12-14 crowd.

        All that said, this isn’t my top 5; but I wouldn’t be upset to see it recognized. (I’m not sure if there is anything this year that would upset me.)

      • This isn’t in my top five for the year, but I disagree here — I think the whole book is about realizing the full humanity and independent lives of your parents, as distinct from being an extension of yourself, that certainly isn’t finished by the time a person is fourteen. (I think a lot of people in their early 20s aren’t full there yet!) In fact, that’s what works so well about this book for me — Mila is so observant that she can’t help noticing all this stuff that actually she doesn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with, and she doesn’t realize, and her father doesn’t realize, how far she is in over what she can deal with until it’s already too late.

        • Joy Piedmont says:

          Wow! I love this interpretation; in fact, I think it makes me reconsider my reading of the text. The crux of this argument hinges on whether or not Mila’s voice succeeds in conveying the gulf between her observations and understanding of the world around her. I read a lot of emotional maturity in Mila, but I wonder if I read again with your interpretation in mind if I would still see that in her.

          It’s interesting that this seems to be a title that people think is strong work, but just outside of the top five. I think this indicates that there’s potential for this one to come away with an honor.

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