Me, the Missing, and the Dead

Me, the Missing, and the Dead

3.6 6
by Jenny Valentine
     
 

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Me: Lucas Swain�I'm nearly sixteen years old and live in London. I was fairly normal until the night I found Violet. Then everything changed.

The Missing: Dad. He disappeared five years ago. Nobody knows what happened to him, and nobody cares except me. It's enough to drive you crazy.

The Dead: That's Violet . . . in the urn. Speaking of crazy�I

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Overview

Me: Lucas Swain�I'm nearly sixteen years old and live in London. I was fairly normal until the night I found Violet. Then everything changed.

The Missing: Dad. He disappeared five years ago. Nobody knows what happened to him, and nobody cares except me. It's enough to drive you crazy.

The Dead: That's Violet . . . in the urn. Speaking of crazy�I know she's trying to tell me something, and I think it's about my father. . . .

A dead lady may not be much to go on, but my dad's out there somewhere, and it's up to me to find out where.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

It's difficult to pinpoint just what makes this British debut so quietly disturbing yet so compulsively readable. Valentine simultaneously attempts a detective caper, a commentary on euthanasia and a youth's pithy send up of an unfair world—and succeeds. Despite its oddball plot, in which 15-year-old Lucas inadvertently stumbles upon an abandoned urn of ashes in a cab depot and, in an uncanny twist of fate, unearths the truth about his father, who disappeared five years earlier, the novel raises serious questions about death even as it exposes the entrails of a broken family. Even with the heavy subject matter, Valentine gives humor free reign, as Lucas mouths off in cheeky British twang about his annoying sister, his lack of friends and his sense that he is the only one still holding a torch for his father. Ages 14-up. A memorable new voice. (Apr.)

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Children's Literature
AGERANGE: Ages 14 up.

Lucas Swain is almost sixteen when a family mystery begins to unfold. It has been several years since his father disappeared, and it is unknown whether the missing man is living or dead. At first, the answers seem to lie with a cremation urn, whose inhabitant, Violet, communicates with Lucas from beyond. In the end, the answers lie within. Violet's story is intertwined with his own, and in his search for his father Lucas ultimately finds himself. This title earns its status as a young adult novel with references to asocial sexual behavior and recreational drug use. The overall theme is to "know yourself" with an emphasis on time as the greatest teacher. Throughout the text, a variety of font styles set off lists and interviews, etc. Although they add visual interest, they may pull the reader out of the story to focus on the typeface instead of meaning. In spite of them, Valentine's writing rings true. Her characters take hold straight through to the end. Reviewer: Tina Dybvik

F. Todd Goodson
The first novel by British author Jenny Valentine is a carefully crafted portrait of a 15- year-old protagonist's search to learn about the father, who abandoned his family several years earlier. This quest begins with Lucas Swain's unlikely discovery of an urn containing the ashes of an elderly woman sitting on a shelf in the offices of a cab company. Immediately drawn to this woman, Lucas learns that she was abandoned in the back seat of a cab. With the help of his grandmother, Lucas takes possession of the ashes, and this mysterious woman in the urn seems intent on telling Lucas something. What he learns will change everything. Me, the Missing, and the Dead is a compelling study of a group of family relationships. The characters are well-developed, and the book offers adolescents an insight into the complex psychological workings of a dysfunctional family. Jenny Valentine is an author to watch. Reviewer: F. Todd Goodson
School Library Journal

Gr 8-11- Sixteen-year-old Lucas idealizes his father, Pete, who disappeared when the boy was six. Mum says they were abandoned, although Lucas makes excuses for his dad. On entering a minicab office one day, he finds himself drawn to an urn containing the ashes of a woman named Violet, which someone left in a cab years before. Part mystery, part magical realism, part story of personal growth, and in large part simply about a funny teenager making light of his and his family's pain, this short novel is engaging from start to finish. It feels like Frank Cottrell Boyce's Framed (2006) or Millions (2004, both HarperCollins) for a slightly older crowd-especially in the all-too-human quirky family members and their willingness to employ creative methods to secure their ends as well as in the contemporary middle-class London setting. Throughout, Lucas's tongue-in-cheek lists (e.g., "good reasons to make friends with a dead lady in an urn") relieve the seriousness of his family's situation and his relatively mature revelations about them and himself. Lucas steadily unravels the two mysteries-the deceased Violet and the missing Pete-and leaves readers with a highly satisfying surprise inside the final knot. Neither too heavy nor too fluffy.-Rhona Campbell, Washington, DC Public Library

Kirkus Reviews
Deciding to hire a cab with the ten pounds his sister left in his jacket after borrowing it, Lucas enters a London cab company office to find himself mystically drawn to Violet, the dead inhabitant of an urn left behind by a fare years earlier. Lucas's own father had gone missing right about the time his younger brother was born, and his mother has never managed to let go of her anger and loss. Thus, the journey of discovery to find where Violet belongs becomes in part Lucas's attempt to come to terms with his own circumstances. Readers never learn whether it's his own loss that draws him to the answers, or whether Violet somehow leads him along through a series of interviews that enlighten both his and Violet's shadowed pasts. The voice is fresh and humorous, which keeps the melodrama low and the atmosphere light. Everyday quirkiness brings the secondary characters to life as distinct individuals, and fortuitous turns in the plot lead to the answers to Lucas's critical questions. Charmingly told, this mystery manages to be both frothy and nourishing. (Fiction. YA)
Buffalo News
“An impressive debut. Valentine offers a rich cast of characters and marvelous writing.”
ALA Booklist (starred review)
“Lucas’ pitch-perfect voice and authentic family relationships, the mild psychic element, and the poignant, coming-of-age mystery will stay with the reader long after the book ends. Valentine’s debut novel shines richly.”
Horn Book Magazine
“Valentine sets in motion a dark comedy. The mystery that unravels...will keep readers entertained.”
ALA Booklist
"Lucas’ pitch-perfect voice and authentic family relationships, the mild psychic element, and the poignant, coming-of-age mystery will stay with the reader long after the book ends. Valentine’s debut novel shines richly."
VOYA - Jennifer Miscek
When sixteen-year-old Lucas Swain rescues an urn abandoned in a mini-cab office, he is unprepared for the journey that awaits him. Still struggling with the memory of his missing father, the declining health of his loving grandparents, and the knowledge that his mother regrets the life she has lived, Lucas is forced to confront all of these trials as they converge around the woman whose ashes he has adopted. As he comes closer and closer to the less-than-favorable truth about the father he idolizes, Lucas falls for the lovely Martha, who is struggling with the loss of her own mother, but still offers the support he needs to transition from ignorance to knowledge. In this well-paced and thoughtful novel, Valentine investigates the simultaneous joy and pain of learning the truth about the people we love, the people who are first and foremost mortal, fallible, and sometimes selfish. The ending is a deft balance of resolution and ambiguity that demonstrates how fraught Lucas's journey has been, a gratifying close to a sweet and sad coming-of-age tale. Reviewer: Jennifer Miscek

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060850692
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/01/2008
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.30(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Me, the Missing, and the Dead

Chapter One

The minicab office was up a cobbled alley with little flat houses on either side. That's where I first met Violet Park, what was left of her. There was a healing center next door—a pretty upscale name for a place with a battered brown door and no proper door handle and stuck-on wooden numbers in the shape of clowns. The 3 of number 13 was a w stuck on sideways. I thought it was kind of sad and I liked it at the same time.

I never normally take cabs, but it was five o'clock in the morning and I was too tired to walk anywhere and I'd just found a tenner in my coat pocket. I went in for a lift home and strolled right into the weirdest encounter of my life.

It turns out the ten pounds wasn't mine at all. My sister, Mercy, had borrowed my coat the night before—without asking—even though boys' clothes don't suit her and it was at least two sizes too big. She was livid with me about the money. I said maybe she should consider it rent and wouldn't the world be a better place if people stopped taking things that didn't belong to them?

It's funny when you start thinking about pivotal moments in your life like this, chance happenings that end up meaning everything. Sometimes, when I'm deciding which route to take to, say, the cinema in Camden, I get this feeling like maybe if I choose the wrong route, bad stuff will happen to me. This sort of thinking can make decisions really, really difficult because I'm always wondering what happens to all the choices we decide not to make. Like Mum says, as soon as she married Dad she realized she'd done the wrong thing. As she was walkingback down the aisle, she could practically see her single self through the arch of the church door dancing around in the sunlight, without a care in the world, and she could have spat. I like to picture Mum, in a fancy white dress with big sticky hair, hanging on to Dad's arm and thinking about spitting on the church carpet. It always makes me smile.

Whatever. Mercy decided to borrow my coat and she forgot to decide to remove the money. I decided to spend the whole night with my friend Ed in his posh mum's house (Miss Denmark 1979 with elocution lessons) and then I made the choice to take a cab.

It was dark in the alley, blue-black with a sheen of orange from the street lamps on the high street, almost dawn and sort of timeless. My shoes made such a ringing noise on the cobbles, I started to imagine I was back in time, in some Victorian red-light district. The minicab office was modern and pretty ugly. One of the three strip lights on the ceiling was blinking on and off, but the other two were working perfectly. Their over-brightness hurt my eyes and made everyone look sort of gray and pouchy and ill. There were no other customers, just bored, sleepy drivers waiting for the next fare, chain-smoking or reading three-day-old papers. There was a framed map of Cyprus on one wall and one of those heaters that they reckon are portable with a great big bottle you have to fit in the back. We had one like that in the hostel when we went on a school trip to the Brecon Beacons last year. Those things are not portable.

The dispatcher was in this little booth up a few stairs with a window looking down on the rest of them. You could tell he was the boss of the place. He had a cigar in his mouth, and the smoke was going in his eyes so he had to squint. The cigar was bouncing up and down as he talked, and you could see he thought he was Tony Soprano or someone.

Everybody looked straight at me when I walked in because I was the something happening in their boring night shift. Suddenly I felt very light-headed and my insides were going hot and cold, hot and cold. I'm tall for my age, but everyone staring up at me from their chairs made me feel like some kind of weird giant. The only person not staring at me was Tony Soprano, so I focused on him and I smiled so they'd all see I was friendly and hadn't come in for trouble. He was chomping on that cigar, working it around with his teeth and puffing away on it so hard his little booth was filling up with smoke. I thought that if I stood there long enough he might disappear from view like an accidental magic trick. The smoke forced its way through the cracks and joints of his mezzanine control tower. It was making me queasy, so I searched around, still smiling, for something else to look at.

That's when I first saw Violet. I say "Violet" but that's stretching it because I didn't even know her name then and what I actually saw was an urn with her inside it.

The urn was the only thing in that place worth looking at. Maybe it was because I'd been up all night, maybe I needed to latch on to something in there to stop myself from passing out, I don't know—I found an urn. Halfway up a wood-paneled wall there was a shelf with some magazines and a cup and saucer on it, the sort you find in church halls and hospitals. Next to them was this urn that at the time I didn't realize was an urn. It looked like some kind of trophy or maybe full of cookies or something. It was wooden, grainy, and had a rich gloss that caught the light and threw it back at me. I was staring at it, trying to figure out what it was exactly. I didn't notice that anyone was talking to me until I caught the smell of cigar really strongly and realized that the fat dispatcher had opened his door because banging on his window hadn't got my attention.

Me, the Missing, and the Dead. Copyright © by Jenny Valentine. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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