Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Number of Pages: 400
Published: March 5th, 2019
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review via a Giveaway hosted at Word Spelunking for Middle-Grade March
Opening Line: "Charlie O'Reilly was an only child."
It's been one year since Liam disappeared, poof, vanished without a trace and Charlie still feels his loss. To everyone else, Liam is the brother that never existed, no one recalls Liam or believes he ever existed, despite Charlie having vivid memories of how irritating his little brother was. Now Charlie visits with Dr. Barton who says that imagining a brother is "perfectly normal", given the stress that he feels at home. Charlie's mom suffers from depression and he's been a semi-caretaker for her while his dad is away at work. He gets the groceries, folds the laundry and is the one who makes sure his mom is taking her medication. On the eve of Charlie's thirteenth birthday, Liam and Charlie had a disagreement and when Charlie woke up, Liam was gone. The one year anniversary of Liam's disappearance is coming up and Charlie has a plan to get his brother back. With a little help from his best friend Ana, maybe they can unravel where Liam is and why no one remembers him.
The mystery of The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly involves what happened between these two brothers, we know it was something major, but what could've been so bad that caused one brother to make a wish leading to the disappearance of the other? Early in the story, Charlie begins to have bad dreams, images of himself during the 1800s in Ireland and then later immigrating to the United States. He's not quite sure whether the dreams are trying to tell him something, but he feels a connection exists between him and the people in his dreams. Then mysterious things begin to happen at home, his comic books have been rifled through and a note appears telling him to talk to his assistant baseball coach, Jonathan. It's Jonathan who helps fill in the details about what might have happened to Liam. Jonathan relays that he was a child who once disappeared and had his existence eliminated after he made a wish to never be born. Yet, now he's back, although none of his family recognizes him. Jonathan believes that he has a way for Charlie to get his brother back and with Ana's help they develop a plan to find Liam.
Jonathan, Charlie, and Ana enter the Asylum for Orphaned Children, a place that was founded over 180 years ago and sits hidden away on the remains of the burned out building. It's within the Asylum that Charlie is reunited with Liam and learns the truth about what happened on the night prior to his birthday and the secrets that Jonathan has been hiding from Charlie are also revealed. Their situation soon becomes dire when they all learn that there may not be a way of getting back home after all. That Brona, the creepy woman who runs the Asylum may have planned for them to be trapped with her after all. Brona reminded me a lot of the White Witch from The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, the way in which her voice draws Charlie in, comforts him, the dotting causing him to forget his purpose for being in the Asylum. She's not cold or evil per se but she does try to manipulate him, play on his emotions and there is some creepiness to her motives that comes together nicely toward the end of the book.
Another aspect of the story that I really enjoyed was the theme of forgiveness. How the story asks the question of whether we can forgive ourselves for our wrongs, the idea that a life living must include all the good and bad moments. It's the kind of book that leaves a lot of food for thought.