Puberty, first love and a grandparent’s death figure in this gentle coming-of-age debut from the U.K., winner of Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize in 2011.
On her busy 12th birthday, Mira, a budding artist of Indian-Jewish heritage, gets her first period, dreams about the Rwandan boy in her writing class and agrees to help her ailing Nana Josie paint her coffin. Among her presents is a diary in which she’ll record her next five weeks. Like Judy Blume’s Margaret, Mira desires and fears growing up, but there the two part ways. Grappling with life’s big questions, Margaret finds adult answers unsatisfactory, conflicting and contradictory; disillusioned, she’ll find her own. Mira’s journey is less stressful than reflective, studded with mature insights and wry reflection as she absorbs life lessons from her elders, especially Nana Josie, who, having lived a full life, now orchestrates her approaching death. (Movingly portrayed in realistic detail, her looming death and Mira’s sorrow are the novel’s strong suit.) Title notwithstanding, Mira’s passivity and the largely conflict-free plot are distancing. Because readers first learn that Mira’s bullied two pages before she fights back, her triumph has little impact.
Growing up, like birth and like death, involves struggle, but Mira’s largely spared its messy, painful side; this is adolescence as adults would like it to be, not as children live it. (Fiction. 9-13)