Thirteen-year-old Mathilda Savitch doesn’t see the world like most people. Something inside of her wants to be bad—and not just breaking the supper dishes on purpose bad, but really core-shakingly awful. Her sister Helene has been dead for a year, and Mathilda’s parents are spiraling into complete dysfunction—her mother has become a full-blown alcoholic, which overwhelms her father to the point that neither is paying much attention to Mathilda at all.
Mathilda, too, is reeling with grief in her own way, becoming obsessed with the circumstances of her sister’s death. She roots through Helene’s perfectly preserved room and realizes that she can use the relics of her sister’s old life to both haunt her parents and dig deeper into the person Helene was and how she came to die.
Though the circumstances surrounding Mathilda’s family are unthinkable, they are not the only formidable forces in her young life. There has recently been a new wave of terror attacks, which Lodato implies are the first major ones since September 11. Mathilda’s cool indifference and her bizarre way of thinking about the world are particularly fascinating in the face of what has become a crisis to everyone else.
Mathilda isn’t just a monster, though—there are moments of deep compassion that not only make her a sympathetic narrator, but also one of the most interesting new voices in fiction. Lodato’s absolutely incredible rendering of her narration, ripe with as much humor as darkness, is what makes this masterful novel shine so brightly. If The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time had an evil twin, it would be Mathilda Savitch.
Rebecca Shapiro is an Assistant Editor at the Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc..