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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: My Name is Mina by David Almond

Lately I've been reading a lot of middle grade novels and, as is the case with adult novels as well, some are great and others are not-so-great. However, when I get really into a great middle grade book I feel like magic happens. That's what I felt with David Almond's "My Name is Mina" - magic.

Almond's novel is told as Mina's journal and the voice of an odd, intelligent young girl is spot on. Mina is creative and different and interesting so she can't begin her journal with a simple recitation of events, she decides to begin and "let my journal grow just like my mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does." And what follows is a short time in the life of a really smart, unique and likable character with all of her clever observations and whimsical nonsense. Can I tell you how much I love a healthy appreciation for nonsense? Children are so stifled by standardized testing and systematic rote learning - they need more nonsense!

The book is more than just the reflections of a strange young girl. It's a sort of love letter to the art of being yourself. Mina is not popular in school; neither her teachers nor her peers can understand her. She's interested in nature and William Blake and ideas that are much larger than addition and multiplication. She creatively interprets her assignments though a very personal lens that her teachers can't fathom, which causes significant problems for her in school. Most of the novel is spent as Mina phases between coming to terms with the death of her father, in brilliant wonderment of the natural world, and trying to establish what it is about her that others find so strange. Why would people not want to make up lovely new words and talk about archeopteryx fossils?

What I love about books like "My Name is Mina" is that they speak truth in a relateable way, as when Mina writes, "Weird, how I can feel so frail and tiny sometimes and other times so brave and bold and reckless and free, and ... Does everybody feel the same? When people get grown-up, do they always feel grown-up and sensible and sorted out and ... And do I want to feel grown-up? Do I want to stop feeling ... paradoxical, nonsensical? Do I want to stop being crackers?" Everyone feels weird, everyone feels different and when we come across someone that is truly original (whether in life or fiction) you can't help but root for them. And I'm rooting for Mina and David Almond because their story is simply enjoyable and wonderful.

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