Monday, March 19, 2007

Review: Notes on a Near-Life Experience

You may think you've seen Olivia Birdsall's Notes on a Near-Life Experience before, but you'd be wrong.

15-year-old Mia thought she had a normal life, complete with an older brother, a much younger sister, a mom and a dad. The novel opens as Mia lists her family's rituals: dinner at 7, Friday date nights for mom and dad, Saturday cleaning, Jeopardy! Then her world falls apart. Dad leaves the family one afternoon and does not come back. Before long, he's living in his new condo with a hot Peruvian girlfriend he brought back from vacation. Mom works all the time. Older brother Allen begins drinking--at home, and at work, and all the time. Little sister Keatie is forgotten after violin lessons.

What makes Notes on a Near-Life Experience special is in the way it is told. This is a true slice-of-life novel told only from Mia's point of view. Her thoughts are presented in short, fragmented, non-linear chapters. We never learn, for example, how and why Allen begins drinking. We never discover why Dad is such a jerk. We may want to kick him, but Mia still loves him so his presentation is clouded. And, because Mia is a fifteen year old, the story of the divorce is intertwined with first love (Allen's best friend, Julian) and problems with a best friend.

Notes on a Near-Life Experience is a beautifully written gem of a novel, uniquely told. It's a great choice for discussing narration with Junior High students and is appropriate for readers of Young Adult fiction as young as 10.