Written by Charlotte Moundlic, Illustrated by Olivier Tallec
Candlewick Press, 2009
Mom died this morning. It wasn’t really this morning. Dad said she died during the night, but I was sleeping during the night. For me, she died this morning.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy tries different ways to cope with the loss of his mother.
The narrator of this story is a little boy who wakes up one morning and learns that his terminally ill mother has died. He remembers a conversation he had with her before she died, in which he told her he was angry for leaving him and that makes the anger comes back. He promises to take care of his dad and worries that he won’t know how to do that. Days later, he closes the windows in his house, in an attempt to keep his mom’s smell from fading away. When he falls down and skins his knee, he remembers his mother’s voice and the way she would comfort him, so he continually picks at the scab, hoping that the fresh wound will keep that memory close. His grandmother comes to help and when she opens the window to get some air, the boy breaks down and sobs uncontrollably. His grandmother assures him that his mom will always be in his heart. At the end of the book, he realizes he has forgotten to keep picking at his scab and it has turned into a scar, with fresh new skin.
Wow. The opening line of this book was so completely unexpected, that I believe I actually gasped when I read it. And I have to admit that I only made it a couple of pages past the first one before I was crying myself and I had to struggle to finish reading it. (A quick search of reviews shows me that I’m in good company on that point.) The emotions in this story are very real and raw and are presented without soft pedal or filter. I was 25 when I lost my mother and I remember the roller coaster of emotions, even for an adult who could understand what was going on.
Author Charlotte Moundlic walks a fine line here, keeping the story honest and direct without ever becoming maudlin or preachy. I love that no one ever pulls the boy aside and tells him that he needs to ‘buck up’ or any such nonsense to devalue his emotions in any way. The analogy equating emotional healing with physical healing is brilliant. Illustrator Olivier Tallec uses acrylic and pencil to create very minimal artwork, mostly in shades of red and yellow. The illustrations echo the book’s emotions, enhancing the story and bringing you deeper into it. This is a very moving book of love and loss and even though it’s a sad story, I found it warm and comforting, with a beautiful sense of closure.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that all pain, even the kind that feels like it will go on forever, will eventually heal.