When Meg Rosoff's mother suggested she write a book about a middle-aged couple getting divorced, Rosoff rejected the idea. “You have to write about something that resonates with you, and I've had 25 years of living really happily with my husband,” she laughs. “A friend of mine read Picture Me Gone and said it's like a love letter to my family; I think in a way it is.”
In the book, 12-year-old Mila's family of three shines forth as an example of what happy looks like. “I was getting sick of the idea that all teenagers hate their parents. They don't!” she insists. Rosoff and her husband have one child and she comments that a three-person family, like her own, like Mila's, is an interesting case: “Even when we are just two, we are three,” thinks Mila when watching a moment of comfortable intimacy between her parents.
It might seem a bit strange, then, that Picture Me Gone is also one of the great coming-of-age novels published this year, a crucial depiction of the moment a child discovers her parents are capable of betrayal (in addition to being named one of the Best Children’s Books of 2013 by Kirkus, the novel was a finalist in the Young People’s Literature category of the 2013 National Book Awards).
Rosoff came to the topic because of a health scare. When her daughter was seven, Rosoff was diagnosed with breast cancer. “People said to me, 'You don't tell them anything until they ask.' So of course my daughter came to a lot of her own conclusions, and she became a very bad sleeper,” Rosoff recalls. “Seven, eight, nine, 10, those are the ages they start to realize they're not just appendages of the family, they start to worry about parents dying and about growing up and leaving.”
And, Rosoff claims, those questions aren’t just for children. “My subject is adolescence, but in a way a lot of my friends in their ‘50s are going through [adolescence] again,” she says. Her friends are getting divorced, deciding to abandon their prestigious careers; they want to do something else. Rosoff didn’t become a writer until the age of 46. “It took a long time to know who I was,” she confesses. “In my writing, I'm mulling over what I learned about transition to adulthood, how you find your identity, how you get to be a good adult.”
Andi Diehn is a writer living in New Hampshire.