Thursday, 10 March 2011
Review: Milo and the Restart Button by Alan Silberberg
Starting over is like pressing the reset button on a game that makes you lose all your points and wipes out any of the good stuff you've spent hundreds of hours learning...Surviving the year is all Milo has to do. Start to finish in one whole piece...But it's not just a new school he's dealing with; it's a new house, a new neighbourhood - a whole new life. And it's one without his mum in it.
Every now and again a book comes along that literally takes my breath away; Department 19 by Will Hill was one of these back in September 2010, and now Milo and the Restart Button is the latest, but for very different reasons. This is not a book I would typically pick up in a book shop - the blurb does not mention explosions, car chases, death-defying exploits or sleep-preventing horror and there is no reluctant teen suddenly finding himself having to save the world from certain destruction. Instead, we are told that it is a story "brimming with heart, humour and hope", and it is exactly that. I loved this book, and my thanks go to the generous people at Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy, as I genuinely feel that my life is now that little bit richer for having read it.
The book tells the story of Milo, a boy who has been dealt a devastating card in life with the death of his mother. Since then he has struggled to find any kind of stability in his life as he is moved from place to place, and school to school, by his father who is also struggling with the loss created by their bereavement. You might be thinking that this is a pretty challenging subject for a children's author to tackle, and yet author Alan Silberberg has produced a truly heartwarming story that has poignancy and humour in equal measures, and it deals with the topic of childhood bereavement in a way that no other book I have read has managed.
Milo is a fairly typical 12 year old boy, albeit one with some seemingly strange quirks. He wants to fit in, just as every child does at this age, but he feels that there are many obstacles in his way, one of them being his name - Milo Cruickshank is almost the furthest away from being a cool name as you can get, and certainly does not make him a contender for membership in the Cool Name Club. One of the methods that Milo employs to get through life is his creation of the debonair Daubney St Clair, an alter ego that never gets tongue-tied, and is always cool, calm and collected and I guarantee that he will put a smile on the face of even the most cynical of readers.
This books has simple cartoon drawings littered throughout, and so comparisons with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid will be unavoidable for some. Please do not buy this expecting something similar to Jeff Kinney's bestsellers - in those, the illustrations are an integral part of the story, whereas in Milo they are there for a different reason: they don't tell the story, they add to it. Sometimes this is purely for laughs, but at other times they help to lighten the mood following a particularly poignant moment. You may think this to be a risky task, as sometimes lightening a deep moment with a cartoon could trivialise it in some way, but this never happens in Milo - somehow Alan Silverberg has managed to place his cartoons at exactly the right moment in the narrative, almost like the 'timing' of a world class comedian.
Milo's voice fits the story perfectly, and you very quickly find yourself sharing his hopes and fears, and you will probably also experience a rollercoaster ride of emotion as you progress through the story. This is definitely a must-read for 2011 and I hope it finds its way onto the shelves of school libraries throughout the country. There are a number of organisations that help children to deal with bereavement and this book could become another tool that could help them with what I can only imagine to be a difficult and often heartbreaking task.