Lucas Swain is a pretty average nearly-16-year-old living in London with his mom, older sister and younger brother. He faces most of the usual teen issues; the main difference is that his father has been missing for five years, and no one knows if he died or just took off. The hole left in the family is still palpable, but Lucas has held on to his father’s memory — making sure the hole doesn’t seal up without a scar — the longest of anyone, and is quite sure his dad is still alive.
But one day he has to take a taxi, and he finds himself fascinated with the ashes of a mysterious woman in an urn in the taxi company’s office. He feels an instant connection with the dead gal, and although he doesn’t know why, he goes with it and figures out how to rescue her from the shabby, forsaken place. He goes on with his life, interacting with his family, a family friend, a new girlfriend, and his slightly eccentric grandparents. The grandparents are the best part of the story – his descriptions of their appearance, their personalities and their habits are just laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Take, for instance, his description of Pansy’s swearing: “she never actually says the word, just mouths it with her face screwed up, her gums and false teeth colliding slightly, the insides of her mouth sticking together and then pulling apart so swearing becomes this strange, spongy, clacking sound. It’s quite effective.”
Lucas’s general search for more information about the long-missing dad ends up connecting with his research about the dead woman, and his feelings and reactions are utterly believable, real and interesting. Jenny Valentine’s writing has great original detail and description, nothing too over-the-top, but evocative and clever and insightful. She captures the feelings of her main character nicely in the same way. The end is a cool little half-resolution to the storylines — a bit of a twist. Me, the Missing, and the Dead is a satisfying book for a teen or older reader.
Rated: Moderate (in relation to teen reading), for about five uses of mild language, the same number of moderate words, and a garbled strong word (produced by Pansy, of course). Also a brief reference to marijuana.