Top Tier (4 to 5 stars)

A Million Things, by Emily Spurr

This sad, heroic ten-year-old girl will win your heart. Rae is left to fend for herself when her unstable mother “leaves” her….

A Million Things by Emily Spurr (Link to Goodreads Review)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A heartbreaking, but beautiful read.

Rae’s Mom is gone -no spoilers here – and ten year old Rae is left to fend for herself. But Rae has had to fend for herself from an early age. In slow, painstaking revelations, we discover that Rae’s Mom was emotionally volatile. Rae loved her Mom fiercely, but she was not blind to her “difficult side.” You begin to suspect that there was some underlying medical issue: bi-polar or the old-time label of manic depression. Her mother always tried to make reparations after one of her fierce or frightening outbursts, but the damage was done. Rae learned to guard herself, to be watchful, to trust no one, to keep secrets. So, when her mother “leaves,” she tells no one.

Rae tries to keep to herself, but, despite her best efforts, all kinds of people are intent on insinuating themselves into her life: Oscar, the new kid at school; his mother Lucy, who keeps asking about Rae’s mother, and Lettie, Rae’s next door neighbour (who is a chronic hoarder.)

My mind was completely boggled by the notion that a ten year old would be able to carry on as usual, but Rae is an exceptional girl. She grew up way too fast, coping with her mother’s mercurial emotional mood swings. My heart breaks for children who have lost their childhood to this type of psychological hardship. Many of us have scars of this nature: no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors. Rae was so foolhardy, but brave! I was so afraid for Rae after her encounter with that creep in the park late one night.

I loved Lettie, Rae’s curmudgeonly guardian angel, of sorts. Loved how she soothed all of life’s ups and downs with copious amounts of tea and biscuits. Lettie’s side story had me decluttering my own closets. (Mind you, I had an emergency bathroom renovation sprung on me and it was time to toss all those bottles of shampoo, body wash and perfume that were gifted to me and that my allergies couldn’t tolerate. Lovely to receive these items as gifts, but … time to go! I felt much like Lettie did: getting rid of the items that I associated good memories with was sometimes sad.)

Oscar’s mother Lucy is portrayed as in interfering busy body – almost demonic. Rae feels hunted and threatened. She just wants to be left alone.

There are many wise and ponderous comments and observations made in this story. Rae is only ten years old, so hearing Rae tell Lettie that she felt empty, and that was why Lettie hoarded so many things was a bit hard to swallow, but by this point I had come to respect Rae’s intelligence and never say die fighting spirit. I suspect that Rae understood the feeling of emptiness, especially after her mother died. Rae speaks so little so that everything she does say is like a “revelation” bomb exploding.

All the masks come off in this slow-moving drama when the truth is finally exposed. The last few chapters were so heartbreaking. Tears came to my eyes many times. Poor Splinter – what a loyal, loving dog!!! Sniffle, sniffle. Good boy!

I wanted to rate this one a full 5 stars, but the story was often a tad slow and took a while to build up. We certainly got a sense of time suspended, of Rae’s own emotional inertia, but, as I said, it made for slow reading at times. Also, the precocious ten year old… hmmm, there was practically no child left in her. I’ve met my share of precocious child geniuses (I think most of my grand-nieces and nephews are geniuses and just too adorable!! But despite their ability to rattle off car engine sizes and makes and models, etc, they still had a childish element to their characters. That was what was missing from Rae for me – none of the worldly ignorance that most children don’t shed until their early teens – when they suddenly think they know it all and can fix all the problems of the world that we grownups keep creating!)

I still highly recommend this excellent, heart-stirring novel. I’m rating this a 4.4 out of 5 glowing stars. That ending was exactly right.

View all my reviews

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