Being a teenager is no simple task. One suddenly goes from being a child with simple needs, to having an increasing awareness of the world that shifts everything around, sometimes painfully so. Needless to say, it’s a complicated time of one’s life, even if nothing out of the ordinary happens.
Like your mother disappearing.
Many if not most of us in North America grew up with stories of people going out for just a little while to fulfill a mundane task such as picking something up from the corner store, only to never come back.
Fortunately, it happens to very, very few of us. Unfortunately, it happens to Adam’s mother in the first pages of Lee Murray’s book, Misplaced, who went out supposedly for a short time to get some milk but never came back. Just like with anyone else who has been through such a traumatic event, Adam probably never through it would happen to him. His mother’s disappearance leaves him with typical yet very difficult questions: why has no one seen his mother? How can there be not a single sighting of an abducted adult woman? And the worse questions of all: where is she, and is she still alive?
Adam finds himself in the midst of a national missing person search, dealing with his emotions and his silent father. Unfortunately there are no leads but at the very least, it means that the media’s notoriously short attention span is soon focused on other things. Adam finally has some time to process what happened, only to realize that his father is acting a little odd lately.
Friendships are one of the cornerstones of navigating sometimes very confusing teenage years. Adam makes a new friend in these troubled days, the lovely Skye, who also has a misplaced parent. The two accompany each other as they try to find their lost parent. One is successful (or at least, relatively so), the other isn’t.
Misplaced delves nicely and wisely into the emotions of a teenager in such a situation. While the characterization is somewhat stereotypical at times, it is reassuringly so; that is to say, it is done in a way that makes the story more approachable and relatable. Adam is a character that reminded me of a few friends of mine; he is both likeable and kind, while at the same time struggling with his imperfections.
The way that Murray deals with Adam and Skye’s relationship was also wisely done. For it could have easily fallen into the painful cliché of Adam replacing the sole female figure in his life, his mother, with a romantic female figure, Skye. But rather, Adam and Skye’s relationship becomes one of mutual support, as both teenagers struggle to figure out what happened with their missing parent.
Perhaps the main reason why this book marks the reader is that while everyone has grieved something, it is usually portrayed in most media as something unnecessarily dramatic and over-the-top. However, in Misplaced, the grief displayed by Adam seems so real: a mixture of anger, longing, guilt, and hope that swirl around a 17 year old boy trying to continue living his life without knowing what happened to his mother.
Because that is the worse part of a disappearance. As Murray herself explained in an interview, “[d]eath is final. It’s terribly sad, but the person is gone. But when someone goes missing, there’s always a chance they might come back. That perennial spark of hope is perhaps the thing that makes loss through disappearance the most difficult.”
I was wondering if Murray had chosen to afflict another character in the book, Adam’s grandfather, with Alzheimer’s as a metaphor for the same feeling of hope; in this same interview, she clarifies that she “felt this was an important parallel to Adam’s story of loss as a person suffering from Alzheimer’s can have occasional periods of lucidity, providing family members with the cruel hope that the person might one day come back.” And as long time readers of my reviews know, nothing gets me more than a book with depth that makes you think. Except maybe chocolate.
First published here on Blogcritics.