When Elvis’s mother sleepwalks to her death by drowning, the family members she leaves behind struggle to cope with the loss. The grief they are feeling affects each one differently: Lizzie punches her best friend in the jaw and begins sleepeating; Dad wears his wife’s lipstick and her silk bathrobe; and Elvis simply tries to understand. Why did her mother drown when she was an expert swimmer, even in her sleep? How could her mother die that way when Miss Ida, the psychic, had said she’d commit suicide? And why wasn’t Elvis even crying?
In this heartwarming coming-of-age novel, Annie Hartnett, MA English ’11 introduces us to the ever-resourceful 10-year-old Elvis Babbitt, who is trying to navigate the off-kilter turns her life keeps taking now that her mother is gone. Like a true scientist, Elvis deals with her myriad questions about death, grief, and what happened that fateful night by coming up with hypotheses and doing research to find answers. Maybe her mother had a brain tumor and really did kill herself since she was going to die anyway. Trying to puzzle out the mysteries around her mother’s death is Elvis’s way of coping.
Yet even as she works to find her own way, Elvis must also deal with her father’s and sister’s reactions to their own grief and the manifestations those take, including the dangerous sleepwalking episodes her sister has.
At any age, death and its fallout are heartbreaking, and you can’t help being engaged by the smart and plucky heroine Hartnett has created, whose clear, honest voice teaches us about family, grief, and how to find the way forward.