Mathilda Savitch, by Victor Lodato. Published 2009 by FSG. Literary Fiction.
Mathilda Savitch is a strange little book about a disturbed young girl, Mathilda of the title, whose sister Helene has died. Mathilda's parents have more or less checked out emotionally speaking and Mathilda is left to navigate adolescence and grief on her own. Her anxiety over her sister's death and her parents' inertia combines with a post-9/11 political malaise and she becomes obsessed with finding out how her sister died.
Her anxiety also drives her to act out in other ways- by dressing up in her sister's clothes, by snooping through her emails and even outfitting a makeshift bomb shelter- to get her parents' attention and to deal with her own feelings of abandonment and confusion. She experiments with love and sex, and she struggles with and tests the limits of teenage friendships. Eventually she tries to track down the man she believes to be responsible for Helene's death, only to find out the truth is more complex than she imagines or can really understand:
Once you have a little bit of knowledge, more of it just keeps coming at you like birds around a bagel. Sometimes when I learn things, I wish I hadn't learned them. Like did I really need to know about Da's magazines or Ma's bottles or even the things I know about my own body?I like Mathilda; I like her voice and her thoughts and the way Lodato writes her internal dialogues. I think adults who read a lot of YA would be the best readers for Mathilda Savitch. I cared about her and felt sorry for her, especially as she tries to wake up her mother, a woman who has lost all sense of how to be a mother to her remaining child. Mathilda's voice sounds very young to me, but then I read so little young adult literature that I don't have a good sense of how girls like Mathilda typically sound in books. But since I liked Mathilda, it's easy to like the book, too. It's a solid, well-written coming-of-age story with a very likable character and an intriguing mystery that will keep many readers turning the pages.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.