Have you ever picked up a book by a new author and thought: My, my. This is really good! That’s just what happened when I started Alan Silberberg’s Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze. From the cover—with its saturated color, cartoony kids and sunshiny graphic elements—I expected another knockoff of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And it does begins that way. We have Milo, who is filled with angst as he prepares to enter seventh grade at his fifth school in a couple of years. We have his cranky older sister and his vaguely absent father. Then there is the imaginary Dabney St. Claire, the suave inner voice of cool, who attempts to help Milo navigate the waters of junior high. But there is more to this story than meets the eye.
Soon the narrative offers a hint that something is troubling Milo and his little family. It was one brief phrase that grabbed me: “After my mom first got sick.” References to the death of Milo’s mother are carefully constructed and beautifully done. The reader gradually discovers that this is a family that is trying to Get Over something. They move a lot; Milo carries only a little box of Essential Things; the family doesn’t seem to do much talking.
When writing a book about death, it would be easy to bathe the loss in life lessons and advice. Silberberg, thankfully, does neither. He grabs onto the 13-year-old’s voice and holds tight. Milo grows and changes the way a young teen typically does—through the day-to-day activities of school and home. His dreams of the unattainable Summer Goodman, ridiculous as they are to everyone but him, keep hope alive. And one unlikely friendship—with a grieving widow next door—plays an important part in his healing, as well.
The only obvious lesson here is the one about not judging a book by its cover. Milo is a treasure.