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Mathilda Savitch

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"A fiercely funny and touching debut novel about a young girl trying to find out the truth behind her sister's death" "I have a sister who died. Did I tell you this already? I did but you don't remember, you didn't understand the code . . . She died a year ago, but in my mind sometimes it's five minutes. In the morning sometimes it hasn't even happened yet. For a second I'm confused, but then it all comes back. It happens again." "Fear doesn't come naturally to Mathilda Savitch. She prefers to look right at the things nobody else can bring

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Mathilda Savitch: A Novel

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Overview

"A fiercely funny and touching debut novel about a young girl trying to find out the truth behind her sister's death" "I have a sister who died. Did I tell you this already? I did but you don't remember, you didn't understand the code . . . She died a year ago, but in my mind sometimes it's five minutes. In the morning sometimes it hasn't even happened yet. For a second I'm confused, but then it all comes back. It happens again." "Fear doesn't come naturally to Mathilda Savitch. She prefers to look right at the things nobody else can bring themselves to mention: for example, the fact that her beloved older sister is dead, pushed in front of a train by a man still on the loose. Her grief-stricken parents have basically been sleepwalking ever since, and it is Mathilda's sworn mission to shock them back to life. Her strategy? Being bad." "Mathilda decides she's going to figure out what lies behind the catastrophe. She starts sleuthing through her sister's most secret possessions - e-mails, clothes, notebooks, whatever her determination and craftiness can ferret out. More troubling, she begins to apply some of her older sister's magical charisma and powers of seduction to the unraveling situations around her. In a storyline that thrums with hints of ancient myth, Mathilda has to risk a great deal - in fact, has to leave behind everything she loves - in order to discover the truth." Mathilda Savitch bursts with unforgettably imagined details: impossible crushes, devastating humiliations, the way you can hate and love your family at the same moment, the times when you and your best friend are so weak with laughter that you can't breathe. Startling, funny, touching, odd,truthful, page-turning, and, in the end, heartbreaking, Mathilda Savitch is an extraordinary debut. Once you make the acquaintance of Mathilda Savitch, you will never forget her.

First-Place Winner of the2009 Discover Award, Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
"I have secrets and I'm going to have more," says Mathilda, the title character, in the opening pages of Lodato's debut novel. It's a claim that any normal, self-absorbed adolescent might utter, but its meaning here is slowly revealed to shocking effect. In this darkly humorous and truly haunting tale, Lodato turns the coming-of-age genre on its head. \

\ Mathilda, the narrator, informs readers early on that she and her parents are struggling to cope with the violent death of her older sister, Helene. A year ago, Mathilda explains, the 16-year-old Helene was pushed in front of a train, and the man who did it was never caught. In the wake of the tragedy, while Mathilda describes her life dispassionately, her behavior is far more disturbing than she realizes. She methodically pulls hair from her head and talks about the satisfaction she derives from pinching her dog. She plans to \ parade in front of her mother in her sister's old dress to mark the anniversary of Helene's death.

\ \ Convinced that she alone is interested in identifying her sister's killer, Mathilda works to discover the password to Helene's email account. With information gleaned from her research, she retraces Helene's steps on the day of her death, in order to solve the crime. Mathilda Savitch is a powerful tale of a contemporary family in crisis. \ (Holiday 2009 Selection)
Cameron Martin
As Mathilda secretly investigates the details of Helene's life and death, she's on shaky emotional ground herself, but she never loses her eye for bleak absurdities…the vulnerable black humor permeating this Salingeresque wonder of a first novel…
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

The first novel from poet and playwright Lodato is a stunning portrait of grief and youthful imagination. Narrator Mathilda Savitch is an adolescent girl negotiating life after the death of her older sister, Helene. Her parents, especially her alcoholic mother, are too traumatized to give her the comfort she needs, so she lives in an elaborate world of her own invented logic. Mathilda evaluates sex, religion and national tragedy in language that is constantly surprising, amusing and often heartbreaking. She speaks with the bold matter-of-factness of a child, but also reveals a deep understanding of life far beyond her years: "I wondered why god would unlock a door just to show you emptiness," she says. "It made me wonder if maybe he was in cahoots with infinity." Lodato chooses every word with extreme care; Mathilda's observations read like a finely crafted epic poem, whose themes and imagery paint an intricate map of her inner life. She's a metaphysical Holden Caulfield for the terrifying present day. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
Mathilda is rebelling against everything and making up her own version of reality, hoping to come upon something more meaningful and less painful than the world in which she lives. Along with her parents, this intelligent and hyper-imaginative young teenager is trying to come to grips with the death of her older sister a year earlier. Presented in a first-person, present-tense onslaught of conversations, fantasies, and confrontations, the novel follows Mathilda as she begins the new school year and immediately gets into trouble with the principal. Later, she invites friends to her house for an all-night survival exercise in her basement, since this a world in which sisters incomprehensibly die and terrorists attack. Mathilda carries on a personal investigation of her sister's life, hacking into the sister's former email account and messaging a boy she figureds was involved with her sister. VERDICT Engaging and humorous yet grappling with serious issues, this novel details a girl's distorted view of events and the people around her. The treatment is mature and literary, but this title could almost be a YA novel. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/09.]—Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. Lib. at Oneonta
School Library Journal
Adult/High School—Mathilda speaks directly to readers in a stream-of-conscious narrative fraught with grief and guilt as she attempts to come to terms with the reality of her sister's death. While her mother drinks away her grief and her father sinks into depression, Mathilda acts out with irresponsible, risky behavior that is hurtful and incomprehensible to her grieving parents. An unreliable narrator, she is certain her beautiful older sister was pushed in front of a train, and she sets about finding the man responsible. While snooping in Helene's room, she recovers emails from the 16-year-old's lover and decides to confront him. Louis, a man much older than her sister, is not the sinister murderer Mathilda expects but a sad veteran broken in spirit and body. Finally accepting the truth, Mathilda responds with a magnanimous lie to shield him from the painful reality of his pregnant lover's suicide. The author captures the protagonist's anguished adolescent voice perfectly: her wild imagination and humorous observations; her palpable fears, particularly of attacks from terrorists; and her lonely grief for the sister she worshipped with ambivalent passion.—Jackie Gropman, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library System, Fairfax, VA
Kirkus Reviews
A wildly precocious adolescent girl searches for the truth behind her sister's death in playwright Lodato's creative and engaging debut novel. The author crafts a singular voice that combines the disjointed confessional tone of Holden Caulfield with the ethereal sadness of Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones. The13-year-old narrator's matter-of-fact reflections on her dysfunctional family hold the whole amazing concoction together. Mathilda Savitch is blessed with a unique point of view. "I've been told I have an ‘artistic temperament,' " she confides, "which means I have thoughts all over the place and not to be concerned." A year after the mysterious death of her sister Helene, crushed under a train, Mathilda is on the trail of the killer, breaking into Helene's e-mail account to flush out a suspect among her sister's many boyfriends. Simultaneously she's deceiving her shrink; trying to hold together the remains of her parents' fractured marriage; and balancing her affections for best friend Anna McDougal with their mutual interest in a handsome young classmate. The story Lodato tells, while compulsively readable, isn't the main selling point. It's the way he occupies Mathilda so completely, giving her marvelous lines like, "Sometimes I'd think I'd like to be a person with brain damage, with nothing but the whale of joy jumping around inside of me," or, "The thing is, I don't want to end up like Ma and Da. In a house with books and dust and all the love gone out of it." His portrait of a damaged but hopeful girl stands up to classics like Walter Tevis' Queen's Gambit (1983). Crossover potential could be limited by some PG-13 material, but both mature adolescents and adult readers will findmuch to love in Lodato's remarkable creation.
From the Publisher
"A stunning portrait of grief and youthful imagination." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312658885
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 3/3/2010
  • Pages: 291

Meet the Author

Victor Lodato is the recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, and has won numerous awards for his plays, including an award from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays. This is his first novel. He lives in Tucson, Arizona, and New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

1 I want to be awful. I want to do awful things and why not? Dull is dull is dull is my life. Like now, it’s night, not yet time for bed but too late to be outside, and the two of them reading reading reading with their eyes moving like the lights inside a copy machine. When I was helping put the dishes in the washer tonight, I broke a plate. I said sorry Ma it slipped. But it didn’t slip, that’s how I am sometimes, and I want to be worse. I’ve hurt things, the boys showed me this. Pulling legs off spiders and such. Kevin Ryder next door and his friends, they let me come into their fort. But that was years ago, I was a child, it didn’t matter if I was a boy or a girl. It would be against the law to go into their fort now I suppose. The law of my mother. Why don’t you stay home? she says. Be careful out there, every time I walk out the door. But is it just words I wonder, how much does she really care? Who is she really thinking about when she thinks about me? I have my suspicions. And anyway, do the boys even have a fort anymore? It was probably all destroyed a long time ago. It was a fort in the woods made from sticks and blankets and leaves. Things like that don’t last forever. And besides, now I know things about my body I didn’t know back then. It’s not the innocence of yesteryear, that’s for sure. Awful is easy if you make it your one and only. I pinch Luke sometimes. Luke is our dog. You can’t pinch all dogs, some will bite. But Luke is old and he ’s a musher, he ’s all about love love love and so he ’d never bite you. I pet him for a few minutes all nice and cuddly and then all of a sudden I pinch him and he yelps and goes circling around the room looking for the mystery pincher. He doesn’t even suspect me, that’s how blind with love he is. But I suppose if you held a gun to my head—did I love him, didn’t I love him?—I guess I would have to say I loved the stupid dog. He ’s been with us forever and he sleeps on my bed. If you want to know, I was born in this house with this dog and those two, teachers of all things. A blue house. If you look at it from the outside, you’d swear it had a face, the way the windows are. Window eyes, a window nose, and a door for a mouth. Hi house, I say whenever I come home. I’ve said this for as long as I can remember. I have other things I say, better than this, but I don’t tell anyone. I have secrets and I’m going to have more. Once I read a story about a girl who died, and when they opened her up they found a gold locket in her stomach, plus the feathers of a bird. Nobody could understand it. Well, that’s me. That’s my story, except what are they going to find in my stomach, who knows? It’s definitely something to think about. For a second as I watch them reading, I think Ma and Da have turned to stone. So where is the woman with snakes in her hair, I ask myself. Is it me? Then I see the books moving up and down a little and so I know Ma and Da are breathing thank god. Luke is a big puddle of fur on the carpet, off in dreamland. Out of nowhere he farts and one eye pops open. Oh what’s that? he wonders. Who’s there? Some guard dog, he can’t tell the difference between a fart and a burglar. And he ’s too lazy to go investigate. As long as they don’t steal the carpet from under him, what does he care. I can pretty much read his mind. Animal Psychic would be the perfect job for me. The only animals I’m not good at getting inside are birds. Birds are the lunatics of the animal world. Have you ever watched them? Oh my god, they’re insane! Even when they sing I don’t a hundred percent believe them. I hate how quiet it is. One smelly dog fart and then nothing, you almost think you’ve gone deaf. A person in my position begins to think about things, death even. About death and time and why it is I’m afraid sometimes at night sitting and watching the two of them reading and almost not breathing but for the books moving up and down like something floating on top of the ocean. And is Ma drunk again is the other question, but who’s asking. Shut up and mind your own business, I think. She ’s a free man in Paris. Which is a song Ma used to sing when there were songs in the house. Ancient history. Oh, and infinity! That’s in my head again. That will keep you up all night, the thought of that. Have you tried to do it? Think of infinity? You can’t. It’s worse than the thoughts of birds. You say to yourself: okay, imagine that space ends, the universe ends, and at the very end there ’s a wall. But then you go: what’s behind the wall? Even if it were solid it would be a solid wall going on forever, a solid wall into infinity. If I get stuck thinking on this, what I do is pull a few hairs from the top of my head. I pull them out one at a time. It doesn’t hurt. You have to have the fingers of a surgeon, separating the hairs and making sure there ’s only one strand between your fingers before you pluck it. You have to concentrate pretty hard on the operation and so it stops you from thinking about other things. It calms you down. He’s reading a book about China and she ’s reading the selected prose of Ezra Pound, that’s the long and the short of it. She ’s got her shoes off and he ’s got them on. Venus and Mars, if you ask me. And I’m the Earth, though they don’t even know it. When I get a little bunch of hairs what I usually do is flush some of them down the toilet and then the rest I keep in a jar. I know this is dangerous because if someone found the hair they could use it to make a doll of me and then I would be under their power forever. If they burned the doll I would die, I would disappear. Infinity. “What are you doing?” Ma says. “Stop picking at yourself.” She crosses her legs. “Don’t you have something to read?” Books again. I could scream. I mean, I like books just fine but I don’t want to make a career out of it. “I’m just thinking,” I tell her. She says I’m making her nervous staring at her like that, why don’t I go to bed. Ma was beautiful once, before I knew her. She ’s got pictures to prove it. She was a beauty nonpareil, my Da says. Now she looks like she’s been crying, but it’s just the reading, and the writing too. Grading papers all the time and scribbling her notes. If she cries I don’t know anything about it, I’m not the person to ask about that. If she wanted to cry I wouldn’t hold it against her. She has plenty of reasons. “What are you writing?” I said to her once. “The great novel,” said she. I didn’t know she was joking. For a long time I thought maybe she really was writing the great novel and I wondered what sort of part I had in it. “Go upstairs,” she says. “Your hair could use a wash, when was the last time you washed it?” She likes to embarrass me in front of my father, who has managed to keep his beauty, who knows how. He doesn’t care if I have dirty hair or not but still, you don’t want to be pointed out as a grease-ball in front of someone like him. Impeccable is what he is, like a cat. “I washed it yesterday,” I say. Ma turns to me and does that slitty thing with her eyes, which means you’re a big fat liar, Mathilda. “Good night Da,” I say, running up the stairs. “Good night,” he says, “sweet dreams.” This is his standard but it’s still nice to hear it. At least it’s something. “And wash that hair” is the tail of Ma’s voice following me up the stairs. Ma is funny, she either says nothing or else she has to get in the last word. You never know which Ma to expect and I can’t decide which one is worse. Lately it’s mostly been the silent Ma. Tomorrow I’m going to break another plate. It’s already planned. _____ In my room I look in the mirror. It’s amazing how you have the same face every time. Or is it only a trick? Because of course you’re changing, your face and everything. Every second that goes by you’re someone else. It’s unstoppable. The clock ticks, everything is normal, but there ’s a feeling of suspense in your stomach. What will happen, who will you bec ome? Sometimes I wish time would speed up so that I could have the face of my future now. After the mirror I line up a few papers and books on my desk so that they’re even with the edge. I also make sure not one thing touches another thing and that everything is equal distance apart. It’s only an approximation, I don’t use a ruler or anything. I’ve been doing it for about a year now, the lining up of things. It’s like plucking the hair. Basically it’s magic against infinity. When Da comes in my room I’m sitting on the bed. Maybe I’ve been here for an hour, who knows. “I meant to take a shower,” I say. “I forgot.” He sits next to me and he tries to look at me, except he ’s not so good at it anymore. His eyes go wobbly, almost like he’s afraid of me. He used to pet my hair, but that was practically a million years ago, when I was a baby. Still, it’s a nice moment, just the two of us sitting next to each other. But then all of a sudden she’s there, sticking her head in the door. “I know,” I say, without her having to say anything. I know, Ma. “Are you okay?” she says. But it’s not even a real question. I wish it was but it’s not. Da gets up to go and he pats my dirty hair and I suppose I should be ashamed, but what do I care about anything anyway. That’s part of being awful, not caring. And then what’s part of it too is the thought that suddenly jumps into my head. The thought that it could be a person’s own mother who might make a doll with her daughter’s hair and throw it into a fire. She’d watch the flames eat it up and then she’d dance off to bed laughing and having sex and bleeding little drops of perfume all over the sheets as if there was nothing to it. I wouldn’t put it past her. But don’t get me wrong. I love her. This is another one of my secrets. The thing is, I can’t love her, not in the real world. Because this would be degrading to me. To love someone who despises you, and she just might. You should see her eyes on me sometimes. Plus she’s not even a mother anymore, she’s just a planet with a face. Da at least has hands. “Good night Ma,” I say. “Good night Da.” And they just leave me like that and they don’t make two bones about it. Walk out, whoosh, and where do they go? All I know is I’m not tired and I’m not taking a lousy shower and I’m not reading a stupid book for school about the King and Queen of Spain. I’m just going to sit on this bed and if I want to pull a few hairs from my head I will, and no one can stop me. _____ Six hairs. Brown, but when I look close I can see it’s almost red where it comes out of my head. Like the hair of another person. Like another person inside me, and she ’s just starting to squirm her way out like a sprout. This is not in the least bit frightening. I’ve actually been expecting her. I know you can’t see anything from where you are. You just have to believe me.2 School started again a week ago and I’m very happy to report that Anna McDougal, my best friend, is in my class. Overall it’s an interesting mix of people this year. No one but Anna has any relevance to the story of my life, but a list is always a good thing. I’ll give it to you with thumbnails. Libby Harris has a disastrous mole on the tip of her nose. A shame really because she’s very quiet and nice. Her father is a lawyer and so she’ll probably have plastic surgery eventually. Sal Verazzo is pretty much the fattest person in the school. Black hair, possibly shoe polish. Thinks he ’s a rock star. Completely deranged. Sue Fleishman is tall and has curly hair. She doesn’t walk, she sort of slides across the floor like she’s wearing slippers. A stupid way to move but the boys drool over her. Barbara Bradley always has snacks. She ’s allowed to eat them during class. Supposedly she has a disease. Jack Delaney is an admirer of mine, but we ’ve never spoken. He has a shirt with a rude monkey on it. Sex addict or will be. Mimi Brockton is crippled! I’m always watching her, I can’t get enough of her. Red hair. I know I’m not supposed to say crippled, but it’s really the best word. Donna Lavora has thrown up several times since she ’s come to this school. Will not do well in life. Max Overmeyer looks like he lives in a shack. Doesn’t smell right. Probably a victim of poverty. Eyad Tayssir has perfect white teeth but you hardly ever see them. He ’s not a big smiler. Middle Eastern, I’m not sure exactly what country. Mary Quintas supposedly has a great singing talent but I’ve heard better. She wants to be snob sisters with me but I’m not interested. Lonnie Tyson still thinks he ’s going to be an astronaut. Good muscles. Carol Benton is the worst. Conceited, big breasted, and loud. Unattractive but worshipped by men. Doesn’t like me apparently. Bruce Sellars is funny and I hear he knows magic. I’ve seen him speaking to Carol Benton unfortunately. Chris Bibb, known as Dribble, came back to school with a tan. It doesn’t make sense on him. The lovely Anna McDougal of course. With whom I have an important but stormy relationship. More on this later. Kelly Graber has bad teeth. I suspect she ’s unloved. Good at sports. Lisa Mead eats liverwurst. Every day! Lucas London is very pale but I don’t think albino. When he talks his hands shake. He ’s like a lamb. He’s so small you almost want to carry him. Avi Gosh is the one person smarter than me. He has the eyes of a girl, but he’s very confident. Rich. Sometimes wears sandals. I’m probably forgetting a few people but if I am there ’s probably a reason. Some people are like ghosts, you can’t capture them, or if you do it’s nothing but a blur. But really it’s amazing to be around so many different kinds of people every day. Sometimes I watch them and it’s like Animal Planet. Everyone ’s alive and hungry and sometimes Sal Verazzo is so crazy to tell a story that spit starts flying out of his mouth. And in the morning just before class begins, when everyone ’s talking at the same time, it’s like a radio caught between stations. But not two stations, more like a hundred. You can’t make heads or tails of what anyone’s saying. It doesn’t even sound like English, it sounds like bubbles coming up out of boiling mud. If I listen too long, it starts to bother me. It’s probably what hell sounds like. I saw hell once in a movie, and it was pretty incomprehensible. I had to turn it off. 3 I have a sister who died. Did I tell you this already? I did but you don’t remember, you didn’t understand the code. My sister’s name was Helene. Helene and Mathilda. Everyone always said we were the opposite of each other. Night and Day was the famous expression. I’m the younger one, but it still feels backwards that Helene died first. She died a year ago, but in my mind sometimes it’s five minutes. In the morning sometimes it hasn’t even happened yet. For a second I’m confused, but then it all comes back. It happens again. She was sixteen at the end. Practically seventeen, just a few months to go. But sometimes, the way she dressed, you’d think she was even older. Plus she had an excellent way of moving. A person who didn’t know her might think she was showing off, but the truth is she just had a natural sway to her. And then add to that her legs. They went from here to Las Vegas, which is how Ma once described the length of them. Some of the memories I have of Helene are from the beginning of my life, when I was a baby. Ma looks at me like I’m crazy when I tell her I remember the day Helene was carrying me, and then she started running and she climbed over a fence with me still in her arms. “What fence?” my mother says. “A white fence,” I say. When I say this my father puts his hand on my arm. “Stop,” he says. Lately that’s getting to be his favorite word. I think about Helene a lot, but basically I’m not allowed to talk about her. To Ma and Da, I mean. Not that this is a rule. It’s more like a law, I suppose. The other memory I have is Helene and I are in a hole and it’s dark and wet. Somehow we ’re upside down. I remember water getting in my mouth. Maybe we ’re in a well is my first thought. “You never fell in a well,” Ma says. “What about a grave,” I say, “or a ditch? People fall in holes all the time,” I say. Ma goes white like I’m the vampire of questions. My beautiful Da looks at me and I stop. The thing is, Helene died from a train. That’s the problem. She didn’t jump, a man pushed her. We don’t know who this man was and the police say, at this point, we probably never will. I wasn’t there when it happened. Neither were Ma and Da. Why she was at the train station is still a big question. A boyfriend is what I think. Helene had lots of them, sometimes even boys from other schools in other towns. She was pretty popular. She had red hair, it was the most amazing hair in the world. It happened on a Wednesday, which is such an ordinary day. It happened in the middle of the afternoon. A man pushed Helene in front of a train, it’s unbelievable. I always think it’s a mistake. But then it proves to be correct. Do you believe in curses? That there can be a curse on a person or on a bunch of people at the same time, like a family curse? How will we all die? I wonder. And when? Helene was going to be a singer. She was a singer. There are recordings. Da made them on his old tape recorder. No one can listen to them now, they’re the most dangerous thing in the world. On one of the tapes it’s Da singing some stupid song with Helene. Both of them are laughing as much as singing. If you listened to it now, it would be Da singing with a ghost. The laughing would kill you. Ma says the recordings are lost but I know where she keeps them. Plus, I have things hidden too. In my room, under my bed, I have some of Helene ’s school notebooks. I have letters and drawings and birthday cards. I also have some e-mails she printed out. And there’s tons of stuff still left in her room. A person, even a sixteen-year-old, leaves a lot of stuff behind. For a long time I couldn’t look at any of it, but then I realized there might be clues. I’ve started to spend more time in H’s room, but only when I’m alone in the house. It’s a better room than mine and I wouldn’t mind living there. Ma would never allow it though. Sometimes I leave the door to H’s room open, even though I know it irritates her. I remember once, when I was little, I was looking out H’s window and I saw a hummingbird. Come quick, I said, but by the time Helene came over it was gone. Maybe it’ll come back, she said, and we both stayed by the window for almost a minute, waiting. I guess we didn’t have anything better to do. When I think of the two of us standing there, waiting for that stupid bird, it drives me crazy for some reason. I feel like screaming. Why does a person push another person in front of a train? Does it have a meaning for the person, the pusher? The explanation of most people is madman. The voices of demons telling him to do it. But how did he get away is my question. It doesn’t make sense. Two men at the train station said they tried to grab him but he slipped away. He just pushed her and then he took off. The police say it happens all the time. In my mind it’s almost as if the man disappeared after he did it. Like he had one job on Earth. To kill Helene. And after that there was nothing left for him to do but vanish. I hate him. The feeling is tremendous. I’ve never felt anything like it. If we knew who the man was he’d be in jail. We could go to the jail and ask him questions. Ma and Da wouldn’t but I would. I would be all over him. Even if it was the voices of demons I would pull the demons out of him and make them explain. I would use every bit of my magic. Next Thursday it will be the day Helene died all over again. It’ll be exactly one year. I marked it in my calendar like this: H.S.S.H. Which is Helene’s initials the right way and then backwards. If you stare at the letters it’s almost like someone telling you to be quiet. Ma and Da haven’t said anything about the big day. I want H.S.S.H. to be a day we’ll all remember. If Ma and Da think I’m going to ignore it, they’ve got another thing coming. The thing is, Helene was supposed to live forever. That’s just the kind of person she was. You always felt she had some secret power that was going to make her immortal. I wish I could describe to you the color of her hair but there ’s nothing to compare it to. If the man was caught he’d probably be electrocuted. But electricity doesn’t kill demons as far as I know. People say the hair was like pennies, but it was better than that. And she smelled like lemons. When I said this out loud once, Ma looked away, but Da said he had to agree. He whispered in my ear. He said I was right. He said it was lemons all the way.
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Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
1. What was it like to read Mathilda's story in her own words, with phrases directed at you? Why does Mathilda sometimes lie to the reader? Do you think she is consciously manipulative, or do you believe she is lying to herself? 2. Reread the book's epigraph. Do you agree with G. K. Chesterton's statement that the desire for justice is related to innocence, while the desire for mercy is related to wickedness? How do Mathilda's feelings about justice and mercy evolve over the course of the book? 3. What makes Mathilda's friendship with Anna so unpredictable? Who was your best friend when you were their age? How was that relationship different from the friendships you have now? 4. What do you think lies behind Mathilda's desire to be "awful"? What does she seem to want? Do you sympathize with her? What were the most irrational thoughts you had as a teenager? 5. What does the current relationship between Ma and Da, combined with the legacy of their passionate younger days, teach Mathilda about love? 6. Mathilda has heard a lot about sex and has many beliefs about its power and pleasures. How does she want to use sex? What type of gratification is she looking for when she pursues Kevin? Discuss Mathilda's understanding of Helene's sexuality. In your opinion, how accurate are her perceptions about her sister? 7. Is Mathilda wise to stop trusting adults? What kind of role models are they in regard to dealing with her sister's death? Do you believe, as Mathilda states, that "Grief is an island"? 8. Why is it important for Mathilda to believe that Helene was pushed? What do you think lies behind Mathilda's brutal fantasies? 9. What drives Mathilda's compulsion to save strands of hair? Discuss other instances of her magical thinking. How do these thoughts serve her? Are they helpful or debilitating? 10. An award-winning playwright, Victor Lodato makes his debut as a novelist with Mathilda Savitch. Does it affect your reading to know that a man created Mathilda's voice? Can you think of other instances where a male writer convincingly renders a female interior life? 11. Try to see the adults in this novel-including parents, teachers, and the Tree-apart from Mathilda's views and judgments. Are they doing the best they can? Do you think Mathilda misunderstands, at times, their behavior and intentions? 12. Discuss Mathilda's feelings of responsibility in regard to her sister's death. How much does self-blame drive her actions? 13. How did your image of Helene change throughout the novel? Why does Mathilda have such mixed feelings in regard to her sister? Do you think her version of Helene's life is a fantasy, or did she know her sister better than anyone else in the family did? 14. What do you think Mathilda is looking for when she decides to go to Desmond? How is she different when she returns? 15. Why doesn't Mathilda tell Louis the truth? What is she trying to accomplish in her last moments with him? Why doesn't she tell her parents what she uncovered about Helene? 16. Discuss the backdrop of terrorism running throughout the novel. How does it affect Mathilda's perception of the world? How does it shape the emotional state of a new generation of teenagers? 17. How does dark comedy enhance Mathilda's storytelling? What passages made you laugh out loud (even if laughter seemed inappropriate)? 18. Discuss the final scene between Ma and Mathilda. What common ground do they share? Why are they silent when they are reunited? What do they communicate to each other without words?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 70 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(15)

4 Star

(16)

3 Star

(18)

2 Star

(8)

1 Star

(13)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 70 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by LadyJay for TeensReadToo.com

    Mathilda Savitch believes that her sister, Helene, was murdered - pushed in front of a train by an insane man. The killer is still out there, and no one seems to be doing anything about it.

    Mathilda's parents seem oblivious to anything except their own pain. Her mother suffers from bouts of depression, finding solace at the bottom of a bottle. Her father tries to maintain a sense of normalcy, but Mathilda knows it is a façade.

    She decides to do some investigating of her own. She hacks Helene's email account only to find it empty. She discovers other clues, but they are few and far between. Did one of Helene's many boyfriends become jealous and kill her in a fit of passion? Was someone stalking her?

    None of the potential answers add up because Mathilda knows the truth - she has known all along. The problem is accepting that truth......

    MATHILDA SAVITCH is Victor Lodato's debut novel. He has created quite an interesting character in Mathilda. She is inquisitive, intelligent, eccentric and, above all else, stubborn. She is the kind of person who doesn't back down. Mathilda questions everything and explores every topic, from religion to relationships to sex.

    If you enjoy novels that push boundaries, pick this one up. It will be interesting to see what Lodato comes up with for his next novel. I will be waiting.........somewhat patiently.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    Love, love, and love

    If you have ever aspired to be a writer, then this is probably the kind of writing you dreamed you could pull off.

    Mathilda is the kind of character that a teenage reader can relate to and at the same time, pull this mother's heart strings to a fine twang. I wanted to reach into the pages and hug the anger and sadness out of her. Her grief was my grief and I found myself quite literally bawling like a little girl as I turned certain pages.

    Few books affect a person to the point where days after reading it you find yourself thinking and questioning and raging and wanting to write to the author. This is that book. It pulls you in from the very first sentence to the last.

    Victor Lodato, I'm on the watch for your next novel. This was nothing short than a work of amazing writing. Thank you for this.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    An excellent writer!

    Victor Lodato's writing style is impeccable. His attention to detail and to finding the right words is astounding. Mathilda is a complex, raw character that I often found myself disliking. There were a few times that I almost put this book down permanently, but I was compelled to finish it. I'm glad I did. I would recommend this book to book clubs. There would be a lot to discuss as far as emotions and the way people view the world.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A page turner

    From page 1, I was hooked on this book. It is a page turner, and the sort of book that you never want to finish; you just want it to go on forever.
    The writing style reminded me of 'The Catcher in the Rye' J.D. Salinger - the main difference being that the narrator is a teenage girl instead of a teenage boy, but in essence, the way the story is told is very similar, especially as both characters also have issues in regard to their mental health. There are also a couple of references in the book to 'Anne Frank's Diary', and again there are similarities in the way this character views the world, and the way it is written is almost like a diary; a teenager documenting events from her life. So although not an entirely original writing style, I feel the author has drawn from very solid, tried and tested, popular works as an inspiration for the style of this book.
    The character of Mathilda Savitch is very realistic and the book deals well with how the death of a child affects a family, and in particular how the parents' grief can affect their other children.
    Mathilda is a teenager trying to come to terms with the loss of her sixteen year old sister, and in a typical teenage fashion, she has invented stories to make the death easier to deal with. There is also the element of the child trying to find out more about this sister, who since dying has become more of a mystery, shrouded with some type of immortal quality in the younger sister's mind.
    It's an entertaining read, and although it deals with some dark subject matter, the way it is seen through the eyes of a child makes it somehow easier to digest. The author deals well with the the naiveté of youth and touches upon some important social issues, including war, terrorism, racism, and suicide.
    At a deeper level it appears to be a study into how the world is moving quickly towards an age of intolerance and eventual destruction, and how it could be detrimental to future generations if the danger signs are not picked up in time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Heart-breaking but well-worth the read...

    A very well-written book about a teen's reaction to death and life, both shatteringly close-to-home and far away, brought close by the TV set. Written in the first-person, we are privy only to Mathilda's thoughts; however, the behavior of the other characters make it pretty clear what they are also going through. I thought the author (a male) did a very good job of inhabiting the inner life of a teen-aged girl, even though sometimes she seems a little too mature. My interest was captured from the beginning and was held throughout the book. I didn't really find any humor; maybe if they make a movie, some of the teen-aged antics will be laughable. Mostly, I thought this was a very serious book and one not to be read by a depressed person. I would definitely read more by this author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2013

    This book is a great read. It shows a child in the middle of los

    This book is a great read. It shows a child in the middle of losing her innocence through the experiences in her life which I know all to well. The only down fall I found in this book is that you see towards the beginning the big shocker that you are not suppose to know unitl the end.

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  • Posted February 27, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    from missprint.wordpress.com

    There is an important distinction that needs to be made clear before proceeding to the actual review of Victor Lodato's debut novel Mathilda Savitch (2009): Some books are classified as young adult novels (books written for teenagers) because they capture some vital aspect of the adolescent experience. Other books might have a teen-aged protagonist but they are still very much an adult novel (a book written for adults) because of the voice or attitude of the book.

    I am 99% certain that Mathilda Savitch falls into the latter category. And that's fine. But this review is written very much because of the fact that I spend a lot of time reading young adult novels.

    Mathilda wants desperately to be awful. Not just bad, but truly awful. She hurts things, even things she loves. As Mathilda will readily tell you, awful is easy if you make it your one and only.

    It might seem that she is a spoiled child (I believe thirteen years old, but perhaps twelve) looking for attention and excitement. But really, Mathilda is living in the aftermath of a tragedy.

    I have a sister who died. Did I tell you this already? I did but you don't remember, you didn't understand the code.

    A year ago, Mathilda's beautiful, perfect sister died. Helene's death is shrouded in uncertainty. Her parents won't speak of it, won't unearth her possessions or open her room. Mathilda will tell you the details she knows. But it's not enough.

    Mathilda won't stop investigation until she has the full truth about Helene's death--a search that unfolds a secret life she never would have imagined.

    The writing in Mathilda Savitch can be quite intricate. Lodato is clearly talented. But Mathilda herself is utterly unconvincing as a teen (almost child really) narrator. Her voice is too mature and her thoughts too bizarre. The tone here is very similar to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon--but even the narrator there was seventeen.

    Lacking a narrator that I found convincing, it was impossible to really get into the story or particularly invested in the characters. Mathilda Savitch felt like it was trying to be something different than what the writing dictated--a problem that made the book seem at odds with itself and, for me, unconvincing.

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  • Posted January 26, 2011

    Great debut novel

    This is a coming of age, debut novel about a precocious girl, Mathilda, who is dealing with the death of her sister from a year before. Mathilda narrates with believable teen agnst and disturbed logic. You never know what she will say or do next. Easy, entertaining read, but by no means 'light reading' (it's filled with depression, mental unstability and grief). I can't wait to see what's next from Lodato.

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  • Posted September 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Skip It

    I agree with my fellow one-star reviewers. This is a depressing book. I didn't care for the writing style, but that's a subjective opinion. Didn't like the characters and I found Mathilda annoying rather than endearing.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Different is good.

    Mathilda Savitch is a coming-of-age tale, but more importantly, it's a story about the aftermath of tragedy. Mathilda's older sister has been killed at the age of 16 and the family (Mathilda, her Da and her Ma) are picking up the pieces. Mathilda is caught somewhere between childhood & adulthood and narrates the entire story, sharing her secrets and those that her sister has left behind. This story is as much about families, grief, sisterhood and coming of age as it is about tragedy & death. And despite the serious nature of the story, there is a biting-sharp wit in reading Mathilda's thoughts. It's hard to believe that this tale is written by an adult male and not by a girl in her formative teens. I loved it. As for you? Love it or hate it, I guarantee you that this will be different than anything you have ever read.

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  • Posted June 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Boring...description deceiving

    I can't put into words how horrible this book is. I have to agree with other reviews. There is absolutely nothing funny or uplifting about it. It was a depressing, boring book. I ended up skimming throug 85% of it. There were too many things taking place, none of which really tied in together at the end.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Pointless depressing read

    Currently working my way through the 'discovering new writers' shelf in the B&N fiction section. I picked up this book to read on Sunday and I wish I hadn't. It's a coming of age tale with a twist: depressing tale of a mentally disturbed teen who feels responsible for her sister's suicide because she taunted her in frustration one day to just 'go ahead and do it'. She lies, she antagonizes, she hurts and she is generally wallowing in misery.

    There isn't anything beautiful, uplifting, or edifying about this book. In addition the pacing is frenzied, as if written by an amphetamine addict. Total waste of time.

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  • Posted May 29, 2010

    Description of Plot is Deceiving

    So you think this story is about a girl trying to figure out what happened to her sister...Well that is about 20 pages of the entire book and the rest is a weird coming of age (if you can call it that) story. The experiences and thoughts this girl has are like nothing I've ever heard. Add to this the author's strange obsession with terrorists and 9-11 (where is the mention of that on the back cover) and you've got one big waste of time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2010

    A quirky, fun read

    I really enjoyed reading this book. The main character was quirky and likable, while the tone was a compelling combination of humor, darkness, and edginess. I recommend this book!

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting story line.

    I liked the book. It was funny at times but also sad in a way. What Matilda and her family were dealing with was a very hard emotional scenario. How it ended had me a little depressed and upset. Did Matilda really come to terms with the events of her life or did she still blame herself?
    It was a very interesting book and should provide good discussions for reading groups.

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  • Posted April 27, 2010

    Intriguing but falls short.

    Mathilda Savitch has appointed herself detective with the intent to find out who pushed her sister in front of the train that killed her. As the story unwinds we are privy to the way both she and her parents deal with their grief. Little by little she puts small details together and discovers the truth. The momentum is good but the ending fails to satisfy and that was a disappointment.

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  • Posted April 18, 2010

    Mathilda Savitch Review

    The black and white book cover with a stencil of a mysterious girl running in the woods first drew my attention. Then the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award Winner gave me a "Housekeeping Seal of Approval." Quite an unusual and somewhat poetically written novel. The main character, a young teenage girl, Mathilda, with lots of troubles and questions on her mind. In particular, her older sister's unexplainable sudden death, until she meets a certain person who reveals all.

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  • Posted April 18, 2010

    Disappointing

    I stopped at Chapter 9. It is clear from the reviews that you either love this book or simply can't get into the plot and its characters. It is what it is.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Bad

    I thought this novel was terrible. It made no sense to me. I could not relate to the main character, Mathilda, in any way. and she is not much younger than me, so I should have been able to if this was written well. The plot was just like someone threw up. There was a lot of stuff all over the place. I thought this had the potential to be like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. Or even a bit like Catcher in the Rye. Man was I expecting a lot!

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  • Posted April 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Recommended to my book club

    Mathilda is a real & endearing character. This is a well-written book with a gently unfolding plot. The author speaks with an authentic voice, which is pretty amazing since the narrator is a preteen girl.

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