Strange Little Girl – “Mathilda Savitch” by Victor Lodato
Mathilda isn’t secretly a wizard or in love with a vampire or anything, so please remove all those supernatural associations from your mind right now.
She’s a normal girl dealing with tough – but normal – things and trying to deal with them, all while going through a time that any psychologist will tell you is tough on a pre-teen: puberty. It’s a book about emotions and growing up. Imagine the honesty of a a Judy Blume heroine (Stephanie from “Just as Long as We’re Together” comes to mind) with the super-savvy youth of 2011, and you can imagine something/someone like Mathilda.
Author Victor Lodato perfectly channels the voice of this young heroine as she deals with her sister’s death (from being pushed in front of a train a year earlier) through torturing her emotionally shattered mother with her bad behavior, pushing her father’s limits, hanging out with her best friend, crushing on a neighbor boy, and reading her dead sister’s emails.
Mathilda’s not a bad kid, she’s just been left to deal with her family tragedy pretty much on her own. Sure, her parents tried to send her to a psychiatrist, but that didn’t pan out, so now she just has free reign to do pretty much whatever she wants without any real fear of repercussions or punishment – her parents are too distracted. (Sounds distinctly modern, doesn’t it?)
Throw into all this the troubling times we live in today. In the middle of Mathilda’s personal drama, there are terrorists in the world, and they’ve bombed places. Imagine being a young person growing up in these times of terrorism. (I was in college for 9/11, but I can’t imagine how my young brain would have adapted to that.) This leads Mathilda and two of her friends to one of the most interesting scenes in the book, when they try and survive in Mathilda’s basement for a night to see what life would be like in a bomb shelter. Of course, one friend brings nail polish and that neighbor boy Mathilda likes might actually like her friend, so the whole “survival” thing gets forgotten about pretty fast.
When Mathilda, arriving at the truth about her sister, decides to contact one of her sister’s former boyfriends, the story reaches it’s peak. By this point in the novel, you’ve realized things aren’t going to turn out warm and fluffy.
It’s a dark book, but a great one. Here’s hoping Victor Lodato gets more chances to share his unique voice with the world.