The Meaning of Maggie - Megan Jean Sovern

Beep. Beep. Beep. 
My dad won't stop beeping. 
And it's impossible to concentrate while my dad is beeping. He's been beeping for almost a whole day now. And it's not the friendly beep of the ice cream truck backing up after you chased it half-way down the block either. It's a slow beep that makes me really sleepy. But it's impossible to sleep because the chair in the hospital room is harder than the hardest substance on earth, which I know is diamond because it was on my science final two months ago, which I got a 100 on, but whatever.

Maggie Mayfield has two sisters—both of whom she loves and detests in equal measure—a mother who works seemingly non-stop, and a father who is falling prey to multiple sclerosis. She wants to grow up to become the president of the United States, but in the meantime she remains on the Honor Roll, tries to follow all the rules, and aspires each and every day to pull herself up by the bootstraps. Unfortunately, even though Maggie feels like a quasi-adult, her family still tries to shield her from the truth of her father's illness. In the process, Maggie and her family learn more about each other, the value of courage, and the usefulness of telling the truth.

Maggie is precocious (perhaps a bit much so at times), and a wonderful narrator; her near-adult observations mixed with a combination of exaggeration and naivety make her an entertaining and emotionally poignant narrative voice. 
Second-period Advanced History got my blood pumping as Mrs. Nicol assigned an eight-page paper due at the end of the semester, which was going to be my greatest paper writing feat yet. And I already knew what my subject was going to be: the first woman Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor. I loved Sandra Day O'Connor mostly because she wore a robe all the time and that seemed both regal and comfy.
Sovern treats the issue of illness with a delicate touch. In the beginning, Maggie notices her family acting strangely, hiding things, keeping her at arm's length as her father succumbs ever more fully to his illness. Her precociousness shines through at various moments throughout the novel, also revealing her naivety in humorous and heart-wrenching ways:
How could my parents keep all of this from me? Did they even know everything I knew? Unlikely, since I never saw them do any research. And how could these scientists and doctors be perfectly okay with calling things "unknown" or "inconclusive"? They needed to get with it! Doe their jobs! Put on their goggles and not take them off until they'd put together all the pieces of the puzzle! Maybe start with the corner pieces and then work in toward the middle, and if they were missing a piece, they should've looked under the couch.
I love the parents and the entire family dynamic. Maggie's father works his hardest to keep up his family's spirits. He jokes when possible, even when it is evident that he is hurting. Her mother works incredibly hard to take over the money-making side of things when Maggie's father loses his job due to his limbs "falling asleep" too much. The sisters are wonderfully rendered; Sovern balances their rebellious teenage impulses with their desire to help their mom and dad keep Maggie safe from psychological trauma.

Moments of tenderness and humour keep the plot from becoming overwhelmed by the grim reality of illness and family tensions. The writing is very strong, and Sovern has developed a truly loveable cast of characters. Aside from Maggie's moments of overly precocious behaviour, the narrative voice is brilliantly crafted and full of heartfelt character development and family dynamics.

Highly Recommended

(Note: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out May 2014)


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