Monday, March 27, 2017

Matylda, Bright and Tender by Holly M. McGhee, 2017

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In a courageous debut novel, Holly M. McGhee explores the loss that shakes one girl’s world — and the unexpected consequences of the things we do for love.
Sussy and Guy are best friends, fourth-graders who share their silliest thoughts and deepest hopes. One afternoon, the two of them decide they must have something of their very own to love. After a trip to the pet store, they bring home a spotted lizard, the one with the ancient face and starfish toes, and they name her Matylda (with a y so it’s all her own). With Guy leading the way, they feed her and give her an origin story fit for a warrior lizard. A few weeks later, on a simple bike ride, there is a terrible accident. As hard as it is, Sussy is sure she can hold on to Guy if she can find a way to love Matylda enough. But in a startling turn of events, Sussy reconsiders what it means to grieve and heal and hope and go on, for her own sake and Matylda’s. By turns both devastating and buoyant, this story is a brave one, showing how far we can justify going for a real and true friend.

(224 pages)

Oof, this is a sad one.

Honestly, I was not emotionally prepared to handle such a heartbreaking topic. That's why I kept pushing it down my TBR list. But now I'm to the end of March, and it came out in March, so I really have to review it. I downed it in a single sitting last night.

I just . . . I don't like books about death. No, scratch that. Sometimes I love books about people getting over the deaths of loved ones (case in point: Suzanne LaFleur's Love, Aubrey). I like reading about the turmoil, watching characters face the very worst-case scenarios and come out the other side still living. There's something very poetic and encouraging about seeing someone recover from the unthinkable. And we get some of that in Matylda, as Sussy takes baby steps to begin functioning again after Guy's death, but I would have liked to see even more.

Actually, my biggest struggle with the book is that it was so short. Cut out the lizard trivia (and let's be honest, I want to cut out the lizard trivia–I am so not an amphibian person!) and the book becomes even shorter. We get a few chapters of background that gets us to care about Guy (who, for the record, is way more well-spoken than any nine-year-old I've ever known), one chapter in which the accident actually occurs, and then about a hundred pages dealing with the aftermath.

For the book's short length, it packs in a lot of details about Sussy's grieving process. She has wonderful parents, who know just when to push and when to leave her be, and Matylda is a great focus for Sussy's evolving emotions about Guy's death. I thought everything was very well done, and what I would imagine the grieing processing could be like (though I've never gone through it on such a scale as Sussy does). I did wish we got a little more background with Guy, a few more scenes with his grieving parents, more details about Sussy's and Guy's school life, an explanation about why these little kids run around saying they love each other all the time (no nine-year-old I know would be caught dead saying the word "love!"), and a little background on why all these nine-year-olds are allowed to roam free on their bikes all the time (even after Guy's totally-preventable death) . . . but, you know, maybe all that would have detracted from the raw story.

Anyway, I do recommend Matylda. I think if you're in the right mood, and a little less squeamish than I, you'll enjoy it much more than I did. Every once in a while a person is just itching for a good sad book to wallow in for a while; this is just that sort of book.

Disclaimer: This is an Amazon affiliate link, and I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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