In Grant’s (Pranked, 2015, etc.) novel, a boy makes a wonderful new friend who’s terminally ill.
The unnamed narrator of this book looks back 70 years on one special day in his childhood, “Perhaps my best day.” On a holiday visit to the seashore, the young, lonely narrator feels he can’t connect with the other vacationers’ loud, confident kids, and his parents are busy with work and a new baby. But then he meets Ilio, a boy who’s two or three years older than he is. He has a thoughtful, fey quality that marks him as different from most children; it turns out that he’s dying of an incurable illness, and his last wish is “to stand at the edge of the world,” on the seashore. The boys become instant friends and spend a perfect day building a kite. This requires many steps, but Ilio is resourceful, and they’re proud of their accomplishment. As they joyfully fly the finished kite, the narrator wonders “Was the kite me? And what about Ilio?...Were he and I connected forever? And if that were true, wasn’t everyone connected to everyone else, over and over, forever and always?” The narrator, struggling with the mystery of suffering, is again reminded of connectedness when Ilio, close to death, says that “Everyone suffers. Just not at the same time.” Grant makes her story seem timeless, like a parable, and this feeling is underscored by the narrator’s namelessness. The book asks some big questions about life, death, and memory and sticks with the child’s point of view even when investigating complicated subjects. The multilayered characterization is handled well; for example, the narrator begins the book feeling oppressed by critical yet distant adults, who seem like a different species to him, but by the end, he feels real empathy for Ilio’s father. Another kind of character development occurs when the narrator tries to distract Ilio by telling a tale, showing the beginnings of his writerly talent as he discovers the challenges of composition (“How was it that anyone ever made up a good story?”) and finds ways to resolve them.
A poignant, elegant story about loss and the enduring power of love.