Saturday, July 27, 2013

Serendipity and Me by Judith Roth

Serendipity and Me is a sweet, touching novel in verse that tells the story of a young girl and her father trying to cope with an unimaginable loss. Sara who is in Grade 6, lives in Central California with her father who is a college professor. Her mother passed away three years earlier as a result of a car accident. The story opens with Sara rehearsing for a play that her class will put on the following Saturday. She is Wendy and a boy she is crushing on, Garrett, has the role of Peter Pan. However, four days before the performance, Sara becomes very ill. When it becomes apparent that she will not recover in time, the part is given to another classmate. This is devastating to Sara.

While her father works at the college across the street, Sara who is home sick is cared for by a neighbour, Mrs. Whittier,  and also one of her father's students, a young woman named Jocelyn. Despite Sara not knowing her, she tells Jocelyn about losing her part in the play, how much she misses mother and how sad her father has become over the loss of his wife. When Jocelyn sees all the cat pictures in Sara's room, she asks why Sara doesn't have a cat. Sara tells her that her father has repeatedly refused her a cat. But Sara desperately wants a cat. Because a cat will give her something warm and soft to love again.

Then on the Saturday of the play, when Sara is at her lowest, knowing the play is going ahead without her, someone rings the doorbell and leaves a little white kitten on her doorstep. Her father is adamant that the kitten will not stay. Sara manages to convince her father to let her keep the kitten until the morning and then for a week, by lying to him about her best friend Taylor's mom considering taking the cat. Sara has one week to try to convince her father that what she really needs and wants is this little soft kitten.
I think --
         No is not a fair word
         when you're a kid
         without a mother
         and you need something soft
         to hold on to.
The following week Sara returns to school and tries to find ways to change her father's mind about the kitten. But Sara also tries to get her father to open up about her mother. Every time she broaches the subject her father retreats. When Sara has to bring a picture of her family into school for an assignment, she cannot find one of her with both her parents.This leads her to hunt for a box of pictures that she knows her father has saved and when she finds it, the pictures in the box  provide some clues about her mother, but also lead to more questions. Sara knows she needs to confront her father about her mother and why she can't keep the lost kitten.

Her father, seeing that Sara is beginning to want to know about her mother and their family,  gives her a book that Sara's mother gave him when they first met years ago. The book is copy of poems by Sara Teasdale which her mother, Aislinn, gave to Sara's father, when they were in college. This combined with a box of pictures that Sara finds and a CD her mother made of her telling Sara a bedtime fairytale, help Sara to learn more about her mother and to begin to deal with her grief. But her father's resolution of his grief seems impossible. And it appears more and more that his unwillingness to have a cat in the house is tied to the loss of Sara's mother. Will Sara ever get her father to confront his grief and allow her to express her own?

Roth's poetry is simple yet expressive, conveying a young girls deep loss of her mother and her father's intense loneliness and grief. Sara's father's grief is so intense that he cannot talk about it. However a little white kitten named Serendipity brings father and daughter together to talk about a person they both loved and lost. The poems are free verse and tell the story from Sara's point of view. Sara discovers that her mother loved poetry and also wrote poems and so this leads Sara to try her hand at poetry too.

While the basic storyline is sad, Roth incorporates a hint of a blossoming crush between Sara and Garrett. She also demonstrates how acts of kindness on the part of neighbours and classmates can go a long way to comforting those who are going through a difficult time in their life. Despite the tragedy Sara and her father have experienced and the difficulties they have faced, the novel ends with a hopeful, positive tone.

This beautiful story makes an excellent choice for a Mother-Daughter book club.

Book Details:
Serendipity and Me by Judith Roth
New York: Viking Press 2013
312 pp.

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