This review is an extract from Inis 35. To read the full extended review pick up a copy of Inis 35.
The publicity material that comes with Silberberg’s novel includes this statement from the author: ‘From the start, my goal with Milo was to reach out to kids who have suffered loss and to hopefully give them some help in learning that it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to laugh and remember the good stuff too.’
It is a statement which, however well intentioned, might be seen as preparing the reader for a book likely to suffer from a didacticism which could possibly dominate the narrative. The danger is not completely avoided but, in the main, such is Silberberg’s skill as a writer (and cartoonist) that when we come to the end of Milo’s story our overall impression is likely to be of one of hope, optimism and cheerfulness.
Milo Cruickshank, now almost thirteen, has recently moved with his sister and father to a new house, a new neighbourhood and a new school. These can provide daunting enough experiences but they become little more than background – the details of which are often very entertaining – to what is the boy’s main difficulty,
the problem of having to face up to the death, two years previously, of his much-loved mother: the fog of grief, to use one of the book’s recurring metaphors, has to be dispersed.
In dealing with this sort of theme, especially in a children’s book, it is an author’s tone which is above all important and Silberberg succeeds in convincingly integrating the essential sadness of Milo’s situation with the boy’s nerdy pre-adolescent quirkiness, the latter given vivid expression in an engaging first- person narrative. Set in contemporary America and generously sprinkled with references to American popular culture, the book nevertheless moves well beyond its immediate origins into domains of universal relevance.
Silberberg’s cartoon-style illustrations, interspersing his text, are not merely a humorous distraction from the gloomier aspects of Milo’s story. In many cases they provide a poignant commentary of their own, skilfully reflecting the light and shade of the world which a motherless boy is trying to negotiate.