Readers, there are some things I do that I am not proud of.
One of those things is my first encounter with the author of Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze.
In retrospect, it's a DAMN good thing I didn't know when I first met him that the author of this brilliant middle grade novel is also responsible for THIS, otherwise I think I would have fan-girled even more embarrassingly than I did.
I mean, seriously. He wrote the lyrics!! And who doesn't LOVE Killer Tofu??? (Unless you weren't a 90s child. Then you probably think this is weird.)
Earlier in the day, I had seen him speak in a panel with his editor, so I knew all about the book and the difficult topic it tackled — one that I related to so much I was crying in the panel. So when I saw him at the party, I knew I had to say something, and ended up kind of rambling a lot about how I couldn't wait to read it and then pretty much spilling my life story in a crowd of 1,300 people.
Our next encounter went better, I think.
Alan Silberberg, author of the brilliant Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze, was gracious in both our encounters, and his book is fan-freaking-tastic. He probably survived our meetings because he has a great sense of humor, which served him well in writing Milo, which won SCBWI's Sid Fleischman Award for humor.
And funny it sure is. Milo the character is real and hilariously flawed, and those flaws and that real-ness open him up to the kind of observations that produce fantastic belly laughs. The humor is so real because Milo is so real. It doesn't feel forced. It's the kind of humor writing I wish I could manage, but instead I stick to depressing topics because, well...I'm not so good at humor. Plus there are comics in the book, which are mostly funny (though some of them are so painfully sad and poignant), and Alan's artistic talent at drawing attention to just the right moment was clear. The balance of graphic text to novel text was just right.
Don't let the award or the cartoons fool you. Milo also tackles an incredibly serious subject: mother loss. Liesa Abrams, Milo's editor, said in a panel at SCBWI-LA that a frequent question while the Milo MS was making the rounds at Simon and Schuster was, "Where were you when Milo made you cry?"
For me, that place was the hotel lobby at SCBWI.
And again in LAX. (Twice.)
As someone who lost my mom as a teenager, I can tell you that this book describes perfectly what losing a mother feels like. The book takes place years after Milo's mother's death, but he is still very much coping with what her death means. He's struggling to move on while at the same time struggling not to forgot.
God, do I know what that feels like.
There were so many moments in this book that resonated so strongly for me. Things that I had to put the book aside and have a moment because they were so reminiscent of my own experience of my mother's death. In one scene, for example, Milo goes garage sale hopping with his friends and finds items that he is so certain belong to his mother (but realizes they probably just look like things she once owned.) I experience that every time I go to a thrift store in my area. I know we donated a bunch of her belongings, so I always look at an outfit or a dish or a knick-knack and think, "This must have been hers." And now that I'm a semi-fashionable adult and wear scarves, I get angry every day that we donated her scarf collection — I could have had a daily reminder of her.
But that's what Milo does so well. For me, it was therapy. It showed me it was OK to move on, and that it wasn't forgetting.
My mom died eight years and two days ago. I am an adult, and Milo helped me cope. I can't imagine how wonderful this book must be for children, middle-graders, who are going through something like this.
And even for those who aren't, it's a fantastic, heart-warming, funny book full of belly-laughs and tearful moments.