This is an unusual premise but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was no hint of cloying quirkiness about this book. Young Lucas knows that communing with a dead old lady’s ashes is odd, but he doesn’t work the weirdness, much less anguish over it – he just gets on with his life, which at this stage means coming to terms with his damaged family and his own feelings about it.
The tone is matter-of-fact and not quite breezy, just right for all the bits involving slightly eccentric folks such as Lucas’ grandma Pansy and grandpa Norman. They are warm, strange, and wonderfully human – totally believable in other words. Lucas’ affection for these people shines forth and warms up the story.
Less successful is the portrayal of Lucas’ mother. She’s been a wreck since her husband left without a word five years ago – but it’s hard to see why. We get glimpses of her diary, we hear anecdotes from Lucas’ parents’ best friend Bob, and we even hear a bit from the woman herself – but it’s all confusing and contradictory. I didn’t understand her at all, although Lucas seems to come to terms with her eventually. Lucas himself is obviously a good person at heart, even if he occasionally comes across as a jerk (especially to his mom, naturally). He listens to people and is able to question his own feelings and actions – and even change!- as a result (a trait that is surprisingly rare). The fact that he befriends the ashes of an old lady demonstrates that this is one worthwhile teenage boy.
Although the emotional issues permeating Lucas’ family aren’t particularly successfully explored, the warmth and understated weirdness of this book make it definitely worth a read.
Grade 7 - 10