Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Lost Language, by Claudia Mills

As Betsy's mother struggles with getting a grant approved for researching and documenting dying languages, Betsy's best friend Lizard suggests that she and Betsy undertake a project to save a language by learning it and teaching it to their friends.  Between Betsy and Lizard, this is how things normally go:  Lizard is always coming up with the ideas and Betsy is left following her lead.  But when Betsy decides to audition for the school play on her own and makes a new friend, Lizard becomes jealous and lashes out.  The girls have a falling out.

At that moment, Mom's work stresses build up to a crisis and Betsy reaches out to her old friend for support.  But instead of reconciling, Lizard betrays Betsy.

Mills writes lots of middle grade books, but not usually in verse as she has done here.  The style works in this case because the story is so centrally about language and communication, but I don't think it was essential.  With few words and lots of white space, the book is a very fast read.  I would not call this one of Mills's best books, but it is a good read and deals with the popular topic of the strains that a friendship goes through as children grow older in an effective and sophisticated manner.

The story features some fairly mature themes, including adult mental illness and alcoholism.  These are handled in a straightforward and age-appropriate fashion.  As always, it's nice to see adults being treated like real people in a children's book.  It is also good to see children being treated as responsible enough to handle that reality.

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