Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Blog Tour: Matylda, Bright & Tender by Holly McGhee

Sussy (short for Susquehanna) Reed and Guy Hose have been inseparable best friends since that day in Kindergarten when he showed her how to make a never-ending Mr. Potato Head. The two friends have done everything together ever since - with one exception. They have never been allowed to have a pet.

Now in fourth grade, Sussy and Guy manage to talk Mr. Reed into letting them get Guy's choice of a leopard gecko. They find the perfect one at Total Pets, a gecko that seems to have been as immediately attracted to Guy as he was to her. And he thinks she should be called Matylda "of the Ancient Face and Starfish Toes."

Although Matylda lives in a tank on top of Sussy's dresser, she seems to like Guy so much more than Sussy, much to Sussy's dismay. The friends even give Matylda a warrior history, in which she is victorious in battle and her master grants her one wish -  to be loved, a wish that is granted when Sussy and Guy find her in Total Pets.

Then one morning, Guy decides Matylda needs some vitamin D3. The two friends hop on their bikes and start riding, when a dog runs out and goes after Sussy on her bike. Guy gets off his bike to yell at the dog just as a car is coming down the street. Next thing Sussy knows is that her best friend is dead.

After the funeral, Sussy suddenly finds herself alone for the first time since Kindergarten. She begins to obsessively focus on Matylda, trying to figure out how to love Matylda the way Guy had, believing that if she does everything right, she could hold on to Guy.

When summer comes, Sussy isolates in her bedroom, every day dressing in the same red capri pants and sunflower shirt she wore the day of the accident, reliving it over and over and over. The only time she leaves the house is to go to Total Pets to buy something for Matylda, something that she hopes will convince Matylda that she loves her just like Guy had, and that will make Matylda love Sussy just as she had loved Guy, enabling Sussy to continue to hold on to him.

At Total Pets, she finds herself stealing food and toys for Matylda, egged on by the stealing girl's voice in her head. As each thing fails to do what she wants, Sussy returns to the store more frequently, until she realizes the store clerk, who had always been so friendly and helpful, is on to her and Sussy's world, as carefully constructed as the never-ending Potato Heads, comes flying apart. But it was a world constructed by Guy, and now, Sussy must find a way to construct her own world without him.

Sussy and Matylda are the central characters here, and both are believable. Sussy's first person narrative feels natural and realistic as she tries to navigate her new life without Guy while still not letting go of him. Her story is interspersed with memories of the two friends, giving the reader a real sense of what their friendship was like. As Sussy recalls more and more about Guy, the reader begins to realize that this was an uneven though dear relationship, with Sussy frequently letting Guy take the lead and acquiescing to his ideas - like insisting that they must get the vitamin D3 for Matylda.

The other characters, including Sussy's parents, Guy's mother, Mike from Total Pets are satellite characters, secondary to Sussy's struggle, much of which is experienced in her thoughts. These other characters don't need to be fleshed out, but they are needed to be there for support and love, which they all do well.

McGhee has written Sussy's grieving process with a mixture of anger, confusion, guilt, and magic thinking. Sussy begins to find herself so very tired from have to go on without Guy, suddenly not really knowing how to do things by herself. The world has lost all its color, and Sussy experiences everything around her as grey. It doesn't take long for her to endow Matylda with thoughts and feelings that a gecko is just not capable of having. The fact that Matylda would rest on the back of Guy's neck probably has more to do with hiding and warmth than with the love Sussy thinks the gecko has for him.

Matylda, Bright & Tender masterfully explores the very sad, very poignant grieving process of a child, and while Sussy's pain is palpable, McGhee has infused her story enough humor so that it doesn't overwhelm the reader. Sussy's story does end on a note of hope and new friends who will help her move on and discover who she is without Guy.

Matylda, Bright & Tender is a well-done, heartwarming, tender story, and one not to be missed.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Candlewick Press


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