I discovered this book through Valentina's irresistible review last month, and the premise of the story and her liking for the characters made me really want to read it. It's about Lucas Swain, a teenager living in London with his mother, older sister and little brother. His father has been missing for the past five years, and no one knows what happened to him, where he might be - or even if he's still alive.
One day Lucas discovers an urn on a shelf at the taxi office when he goes into request a cab, and it seems so incongruous sitting there amidst the smoke and card playing and grime. At first he doesn't realize what it is, but the Tony Soprano-like cab driver informs him that the urn contains the ashes of an old woman; someone left it in the back of a taxi and never came back for it - it's been sitting there for years. It seems that whoever's ashes are in that urn is begging Lucas to get her out of there, and fast.
His better self, he tells us, would have found a way to rescue the old woman right then and there, but his real self turns and walks out. Still, he can't get the urn and the old woman out of his mind, so he turns to his grandmother, Pansy, for help. Even before the Tony Soprano cab guy tells him the name on the urn, Lucas somehow knows who it is: Violet Park. He feels there is a mysterious connection between himself and Violet Park, and as the story unfolds, he discovers many things about his family, his life and himself because of that connection.
I found the characters in this novel as engaging as Valentina did, and I particularly loved Lucas's voice and the way he described things, which revealed so much about his character. He describes his grandmother:
Pansy is a live wire. She'll talk about anything and has theories about stuff she's hardly heard of, like jungle music, PlayStation and Internet dating. She swears all the time; but she never actually says the word, just mouths it with her face screwed up, her gums and false teeth colliding slightly, the insides of her mouth sticking together and then pulling apart so swearing becomes this strange, spongy, clacking sound. It's quite effective.
Even when Lucas is describe ordinary things, like what he sees on his walk home, made me like him and want to know more about him, good and bad things alike. I may never think of crows the same way again after reading this description of them:
That part of the heath is covered with enormous crows. They've got massive feet and they walk around staring at their massive feet like they can't believe how big they are. They all look like actors with their hands behind their backs, rehearsing the bit in that play when the king says, "now is the winter of our discontent..."
Rescuing Violet sets Lucas on a course of discovery from which there is no turning back. He can't un-know the things he discovers, even if part of himself wishes he'd never learned them. He comes to realize how much his life and his family's lives revolve in a sort of holding pattern around the missing part that is his father, and what that really means. Even though Violet Park is long dead, her presence sure shakes things up! I am so glad I read Valentina's review of this one - this is my third book for the Irresistible Review Challenge, which runs through the end of August, so it's not too late to join!
Me, the Missing, and the Dead (UK title: Finding Violet Park) by Jenny Valentine (HarperTeen, 2007)
Also reviewed at:
A Rainbow of Books
Three Legged Cat