Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Lolo's Light, by Liz Garton Scanlon

At the age of twelve, Millie gets her first experience of babysitting for their neighbor's four month-old baby, Lolo.  The evening goes fine and Millie is so happy that she's managed so well as a child carer.  But the next morning, there is terrible news:  sometime in the night after Millie went home, baby Lolo died.  Attributed to SIDS, Lolo's death is not Millie's fault, but that's not how Millie sees it.  

Suddenly, nothing feels safe or secure.  Withdrawn into grief, Lolo cuts herself off from her friends and it struck with panic attacks at school.  She becomes convinced that the spirit of Lolo still lives and imagines she can see the light of that spirit shining from her neighbor's windows when she walks by.

A poorly timed science project in which the class incubates and hatches chickens stirs up the worst of her fears and anxieties.  Millie becomes obsessed with taking care of the eggs and their incubation and grows inconsolable when some of the eggs fail.  Her parents, the science teachers, and a counselor all attempt to help, offering different perspectives on life/death and reconciling to it.

Stories about grief don't generally allow much room for maneuver in the plot. It's pretty much a given that you'll work through the stages of grief and come out at the end of the story in a state of acceptance, prepared to move forward.  It's an inward journey and can get really dull, unless it is particularly well-written.  In this case, the challenges are compounded by the author's decision to tell the story in third person voice.  Millie is sad.  Millie is angry.  Millie won't tell people how she's feeling.  It's an incredibly passive way to experience her emotional state and one that is very hard with which to connect. I couldn't get invested in her story.

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