Pieces of Me, by Charlotte Gingras (fiction) – seeking friendship, hiding Mom’s illness

Being a teenager is difficult. Coping with a parent’s mental illness can make it unbearable. And it’s just Mira and her mom, in that basement apartment.

How can you be anyone’s friend if your mother has your walk home from school timed to the second? Who wouldn’t have a crush on the only teacher who ever encouraged you?

Originally published in French as La Liberté. Connais pas… this slim, lyrical story won a 1999 Governor General’s Literary Award from the Canada Council for the Arts. Susan Ouriou’s translation is flowing and true, bringing us Mira’s story from the chilly Quebec streets.

Find this gem at your local library or independent bookstore to hear Mira’s tale.

Book info: Pieces of Me / Charlotte Gingras; translated by Susan Ouriou. Kids Can Press, 2009. [author biography in French] [publisher site]

Recommendation: At 14, Mirabelle feels separated from real life – trapped in the basement apartment by her divorced mother who knows to the minute how long it takes Mira to walk home from school, reading in the school library so she doesn’t have to talk to anyone at lunch, hiding behind her long golden hair so no one sees her sketches.

Then Catherine arrives at school, and Mira’s life moves out of its dark cloud, bit by bit. They invent a club so that they can meet after school in the café once a week. Cath brings Mira to a table of friends at lunch. And they both work hard at the challenging assignments in art class.

Cath gets a boyfriend and drifts away, just a little, as Mira’s admiration of her art teacher becomes infatuation, and life becomes more complicated. Her wildlife biologist father returns to the city, asking about her plans for college – a startling idea for Mira, who isn’t sure how her mother would survive without her.

Discerning older teen readers will remember Mira’s love of color, her worries about her first kiss, and her dreams of escaping the basement apartment long after they close this slim volume, lyrically translated from the French by Susan Ouriou. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

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