Might As Well Be Dead by Mark GoldblattPublisher: Phoenix Press Ltd UK
Number of pages: 214 pages
Publishing: May 5th, 2023
Source: Simone Jung at Books Forward
Opening Line: " The first time I ever laid eyes on him, I was ninety-nine percent sure he wasn't real."
Thirteen-year-old David Salmon and his dad have been grappling with the fact that his mom suddenly decided to pack up and leave them. David seems to be adjusting better than his dad who has taken to living in his boxer shorts and hasn't even packed up her belongings yet. Then one day, David witnesses an Englishman in a white suit and wizard glasses outside his house. Suddenly he is seeing the man all over the place, which leaves David contemplating whether the man is real or just a hallucination. Winston doesn't seem to pose a threat to David, and he too is confused by why he has been hanging around David so much. Winston feels like he needs David's help and eventually they come to the realization that David is to deliver a message for Winston. Soon Winston is following David to school, showing up in his classes, and becoming involved with David's relationship issues with his classmates. Can Winston help David to deliver his message and where exactly is he leading him?
I'd describe the beginning of Might As Well Be Dead as leaving me in a quandary or perplexed. Which I believe is part of the purpose of the story. A few things are certain, David's mom has left, and his dad has been suffering. David seems to have adjusted to the situation but at the same time seems numb to her suddenly leaving. He maintains that he's fine whenever someone tries to probe him about his feelings, but there's an underlying lack of concern or separation from his actual feelings present. He appears very cavalier and casual during conversations, but I certainly felt like there was more to what David wasn't saying. Underneath the layers of confusion there appears to be a lonely and sad boy.
David's main confidant is his best friend, Hector. They've been meeting up at the same fire hydrant and walking to school together for over a year. Their friendship appears to be strong, although Hector expresses a lot of concern over how David is doing in school. He kind of hounds him about studying, but David isn't overly concerned about his grades or putting in the effort to do better. Early on in the story the reader is also introduced to Minnie, a family friend of Hector's who is also going to be going to their school. Minnie is everything David is not, she's outgoing, full of questions and determined that David will be her boyfriend. Again, David goes along with her ideas and doesn't put up too many complaints. He appears to enjoy Minnie's company but the whole girlfriend thing is new to him. He's a little awkward and makes mistakes but isn't mean spirited toward her. She truly likes David because she feels they have a lot in common, her parents are getting a divorce and she expresses a lot of empathy toward David's situation. She's a refreshing distraction for him, especially when he feels like Hector is keeping something important from him.
Then there's Winston, whose sudden arrival is not only confusing to David, but Winston is also puzzled. For his part, David seems to go along with Winston's existence, because the alternative is that he's going a little crazy. Their back-and-forth dialogue doesn't provide much illumination to the plot initially, and I think this is the kind of story that will take a patient reader. One who doesn't need all the answers up front and is willing to have things unravel slowly. One which will also have you contemplating Winston's motivations and existence and just what this message even means. I'm not sure how I really feel about Winston, especially when he complicates David's life by people beginning to witness David seeming to talk to himself and his school counselor becomes involved. While reading, I also felt slightly anxious. Wondering where this story was going, what kind of resolution were we coming to. How the story ended was also slightly unexpected, there didn't seem to be any hints that I picked up on that would've led me to believe that ending was going to happen. Not to say that I didn't enjoy the story, I really did, just that I was surprised. I don't want to give too much away so I don't think I can fully explain it, suffice to say that despite parts of the book appearing dark there is an underlying message of hope and a coming to an acceptance. Other books from the author include Twerp and Finding the Worm. ** A huge thank you to Simone Jung at Books Forward for the ARC paperback**
I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE