What You Need to Know:|
• Mira copes with typical teenage angst, while she also deals with her grandmother's battle with cancer.
• The main character is a half Indian, half Jewish 12-year-old girl living in London.
• The grandmother's careful planning of her last days, including her stay in hospice and her funeral, are integral
to the story.
• There is an innocent romance which includes a first kiss.
• Through a school friend, Mira becomes aware of the tragedies that took place in Rwanda.
"When someone is dying, everything you say and do means more than it usually does. When
someone is dying, you notice things...everything really. The whole of life is in slow motion."
The tween years can be complicated enough without having to deal with illness and death, as Mira is learning the hard way. She's painfully shy and insecure unless she's with her one and only friend, Millie. Speaking in class is a challenge and she's the target of some bullying at school. Everything seems to change, though, on her 12th birthday. Maybe it's her first period, or her thought-provoking writing teacher, Pat Print, or the fact that her crush, Jide Jackson seems to like her too. It could also be that watching her Nana Josie's life come to an end has put things into perspective. Either way, she begins to figure out a little bit about who she is and who she wants to be. She starts to open up more in school, she begins a relationship with Jide, and she even talks back to those bullies.
Amidst this turmoil known as "growing up", Mira spends most of her days with her dying grandmother. They paint Nana Josie's coffin, pay one last visit to her cottage, say goodbyes to many of her friends, reminisce about her life, and accept meaningful gifts from her. Mira and her family are even there as Nana Josie enters a hospice, as she struggles for air when her lungs fill with liquid, and when she chooses pain relief over treatment. Mira is clearly very close with her grandmother, with whom she shares a love of painting, and from whom she appears to learn a great deal. Among her many words of wisdom, Nana explains that some people never learn to protect themselves and they're the ones who need charms. For Mira, Nana's companionship, writing in her journal, and participating in Pat Print's writing class, seem therapeutic in helping her to cope with the larger than life issues she is facing.
Although Mira's background is Jewish and Indian, neither seem to play a huge role in her life. This coming of age novel really focuses on Mira's feelings, many of which contemplate death and dying, but many of which also reveal her thoughts on boys, friendship, school, family, God, and life. Yes, a string of sadness definitely runs through the pages, but as Mira realizes with a grandmother who has lived a good and full life, it is the natural order of things. Balancing the weight of Nana Josie's death are all the people she has touched and all the positive memories she has left behind. You feel as if, despite the heartache they must now face, everyone is better off for having known Nana Josie, and that's the same with Mira - despite the sadness that comes with her story, we are left better off for having shared it.
2013, 288 pages
Compassion/Empathy, Ethnicity/Culture, Family Life, Friendship, Grandparents, Growing Up, Illness/Death, Journal Style, Storytelling
• Was it the right decision for Mira to spend so much time with Nana Josie in the last days of her life?
• Why does Mira keep secrets from Millie and her parents?
• What kinds of things do you keep to yourself?
• What made Pat Print such a good teacher? Have you ever had a teacher like her?
• Why does Mira need the artichoke charm? Does Jide need a charm too? Do you know anyone else who needs one?
• Would you want to be friends with Mira? Why or why not?
• Why does Krish run back to see Joe at the hospice?
• Does reading a story in the present tense help you to connect better to the characters or the plot?
• As Pat Print says, "Names hold histories...", so do you know the background on yours?
• Have you ever kept a diary? Do you think writing things down helps you to better deal with them?
• Try Pat Print's "instant writing" exercises to develop a character. Pick a person and quickly write everything that
comes to mind. Then pick a character and think of a related animal, vegetable or fruit, color, and place.
• When discussing writing, Pat Print says, "The characters will lead you to the plot." Do you think that is true?
• Do you agree with Nana Josie that going through her experience with her is a "necessary heartbreak"?
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