Those of you who have read my book Words That Start With B and its follow up, Love is a Four-Letter Word will understand why I love Artichoke Hearts. Narrator Mira Levenson could be my narrator Clarissa Louise Delaney’s English cousin. Both of them are wry, funny, grown up in some ways, and very young in others. Exactly what I want in my contemporary middle grade fiction.
Mira Levenson starts a journal after signing up for a writing class with the appropriately named Miss Print. Her best friend Millie, who she feels has been drifting away from her, along with loud-mouthed Ben and mysterious Jidé are also in the class. The journal turns out to be the perfect place for Mira to work out her feelings about Jidé, Millie, and the impending death of her beloved Nana Josie.
It is easy to see why Mira will miss her grandmother. Nana Josie is a warm, vibrant character who is just as fun as she is wise. She is the kind of person who orders her coffin in advance so she can paint a mural on it. The relationship between Mira and Nana Josie is touching and realistic, in fact all of the relationships in this book feel that way. This is one of the reasons Nana Josie’s death, and the varied reactions of each of the Levensons, is so heartbreaking and rich.
On one hand this is a book about death. Author Sita Brahmachari has created an honest portrayal of a family preparing for the death of a loved one. Because the reader is made aware early on that Nana Josie is dying and will die by the end of the book, her death is less traumatic. Kids with questions about death (or are grieving themselves) will get a lot out of this book, including how hospices work, the different ways people deal with death, and how to celebrate a life. This being said, readers who are just looking for a good story will be equally satisfied.
More than anything else, this is a book about life going on in spite of death. Mira gets her period, discovers first love, flexes her wings as a writer, all while her grandmother prepares to die. I loved this about the book- the world doesn’t stop when someone dies, though it might feel that way at times. You can be happy and in love even while you are grieving. This is often something that is missed in books that deal with similar subjects. Not so in Artichoke Hearts.
Something else I love about English books is the inventive vocabulary. British children’s fiction, particularly contemporary realistic fiction, is full of amazing slang that I wish I could adopt in my life without my roommates looking at me funny. Every time I use words like splodgy, one of my friends will ask with a pained expression on their face, “Are you reading British kids books again?”
Artichoke Hearts is a funny, tender and realistic book for readers 9-14 who enjoy real stories about real kids. Fans of Judy Blume, Kit Pearson, Susin Nielsen, Sharon Creech, and my books (if I can be so bold as to include my name on this list) will love dipping into Mira’s world. Though the issues may seem heavy, this is a warm, delightful read. I am eagerly anticipating the follow up, Jasmine Skies.
Artichoke Hearts is available now in Canada from HarperCollins Canada.