June 01, 2018

Missing Mike

Written by Shari Green
Pajama Press
248 pp.
Ages 8-12
May 2018

With high summer temperatures and low precipitation predicted for the western provinces this year, there could be record wildfires again like the ones that imposed extensive evacuations on Fort McMurray in 2016. The circumstances of those forced evacuations and the tragedies and stories embedded within cannot be easily told or read but Shari Green has the voice, the words, and the heart to tell it in her newest middle grade novel Missing Mike.

It's summer in Pine Grove and, because of the weather, lightning strikes and human carelessness, the community is on alert to evacuate. Like everyone, ten-year-old Cara has been instructed to pack up a change of clothes "and a few treasures" (pg. 12), though what she treasures most is Mike, her one-eyed, rust-coloured dog whom they'd adopted two years earlier. But when the orders come out to evacuate, Mike is gone from the yard. Cara tries to go in search of him, sure he's headed to the nearby creek, but her father prevents her, telling Cara there is no time and they must leave.  

After a harrowing highway drive to shelter at a community centre in a neighbouring community, Cara, her older sister Sloane and their parents are billeted with Jasmeet and Bill Bains and their thirteen-year-old foster daughter, Jewel. But it's not home.
A truth zooms through me
squeezes my insides
heavy as a brick:
this place
these strangers
this makeshift home that is anything
but home...
we're meant to stay here. (pg. 50)
Everything seems to be changing and that just adds to Cara's persistent worry about Mike.  She learns her best friend Heather and her family may not return to Pine Grove, as her dad might not have a job to which he should return. Sloane, who used to be Cara's protector, is spending lots of time with a young man evacuated with his baby daughter. Worse, the news coming out of Pine Grove is not good and worries about their home being destroyed are very real. It's all too much for Cara and, reassured by Jewel, she is determined to do all she can to find Mike.
"He got lost," she says again,
"which means he can get
found." (pg. 65)
I'm not going to tell you how Missing Mike ends but (spoiler alert!) I can reassure you that Mike does not die. That may have been my biggest concern but Missing Mike was still a heartbreaking story to read. Cara's love for Mike is so deep that her anguish at being separated from him is palpable. She envisions a multitude of scenarios that Mike might be enduring or anticipates where he might be, alternating that distress with reflections on the things she and he did together. But more than the story about a missing dog, Missing Mike is about home and the different configurations it might take. Cara who spends some time working on crosswords, realizes that the synonyms for home are not always structures. They can be feelings and people and more.

Shari Green, who has impressed all readers with her exceptional novels in verse (Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles, Pajama Press, 2016; Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, Pajama Press,  2017) does not disappoint with this latest middle grade novel in free verse. The genre is a tough one to write but Shari Green has perfected it. She gets the voices dead on with a limited vocabulary and still tells an honest story about a family's response to disaster and specifically a young girl's determination to be reunited with the dog she loves and finding home whatever and wherever it may be.
I bet if you asked one hundred people
you'd probably find
there are one hundred words for home.
Turns out 
home isn't always with family
but often it is.
It isn't always a place
but sometimes it is.
It isn't always within your grasp
but when you find it
you know to
hold on. (pg. 230)

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