Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari

Things haven't been very good in the Price home since Charlie, 12, and younger sister Imogen's mother passed away. There are piles of laundry to be done, dad keeps working later and later, and no one knows how to cook anything worth eating, especially not their mother's special spaghetti.

For Imogen's birthday, Charlie tries to make the good smelling, great tasting remembered spaghetti, but it turns out to be inedible, upsetting Imogen who storms off to her room.  The next morning, looking uncharacteristically disheveled, Imogen tells Charlie she spent the night with their Mom.

Sure enough, Charlie discovers a hatch under Imogen's bed that leads to a parallel world, exactly like the one they live in, except here Mom is alive, the laundry is done, the food smells and tastes good, and she has all the time in the world to spend with her children.  But soon, Charlie notices that Imogen's eyes have a vacant glassy look, exactly like his friend Frank had shortly after his beloved grandmother died and Frank disappeared.  And Imogen is beginning to fade out of family photographs.

But none of this makes any sense to star Mathlete Charlie, who consoles himself with the fact the no matter what else happens, 2 + 2 will always equal 4.  Still, he also finds the pull of spending time with this living Mom sometimes too strong to overcome, despite his misgivings about her.  And to make matters confusing, every time Charlie and Imogen do something with Mom, it's the first time - first spaghetti meal, first scavenger hunt, first scrabble game.  Noticing that he is also fading from family photos, Charlie begins to suspect his real world memories are fading or getting lost, which is confirmed when his friend Elliott reminds him about having eaten his mother's delicious spaghetti.  But why is he forgetting such pleasant memories.

Finally, when Imogen gives up everything in the real world in favor of staying with Mom, Charlie knows it's time to enlist the Elliott's help to get her back.  But can they succeed or will the power of Mom be too strong?

The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price  is a sinister page-turner in the same vein as Neil Gaimen's Coraline.  It is written from the third person and told by a narrator with a point of view limited to Charlie.  Most of the story takes place in the two places children are supposed to feel safest in - home and school.  But home is not safe because of a distant father and no mother, so the temptation to spend time with the Mom in the parallel world is great, especially for the more vulnerable Imogen. School seems to be a place where people are feeling sorry for the Price kids, but don't really look too closely to notice their unusual behavior.
When a parent dies, kids no longer have that feeling of safety that comes with attentive parents. There's no one there to support and to admire their achievements, which we see with how easily Imogen gives up her Wizard of Oz school play, even though she's Dorothy, and how Charlie jeopardizes his place on Mathletes because of spending time with a Mom that makes they feel loved.
I thought the characters of Charlie and Imogen were well developed and fully realized.  Maschari takes them through the whole range of emotions that a young person would feel after the loss of a beloved parent.   And oddly enough, the memory-stealing Mom, even though she is no more than a phantom, was also fully realized.

But beyond the creepy mother and other fantastic elements to this novel are some pretty serious themes of loss, grief, friendship, and the power of sibling relationships.  The ease with which one can get mired in grief and the difficulty of moving on after a loss are both vividly depicted, as it the support siblings can give to each other at times like that.  And the limits of school and even a school-supported grief groups are sadly also realistically portrayed.  Still, this is a novel that ends on a hopeful note as the Price siblings learn the ways in which their mother will always be with them.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

1 comment:

  1. This sounds so different from most children's stories. I really have to hunt a copy down.


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