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‘These Are Not the Words’ by Amanda West Lewis, is a beautifully, poetically, musically, written book about a very difficult subject. We meet Miranda Billie Taylor, called Missy, a 12 year-old girl just before her homelife spirals down confusingly, harmfully, because of her father’s drug and alcohol addictions and mental illness. She loves her father, a 1960’s jazz drummer, who channels every beat of New York City where they live. His behavior towards his daughter is mercurial, one moment he ignores her, the next he is writing her poetry and taking her to jazz bars in the middle of the night, abandoning her and sending her home in a taxi alone in the middle of the night. Her mother is studying painting and for the first part of the book she does not seem very involved in her daughter’s daily life.
We read as her father spirals into drug addiction and mental illness, with a damaging personality change that his daughter does not understand. After trying to accept and placate her father, to avoid his explosive anger, the drug addiction causes a crisis. The mother and daughter flee to survive.
Then, everything changes for Missy and her mother as they hide from her father, and deal with poverty, hoping he will pull himself out of drug addiction and choose a family life again. But, after enticing Missy to find him by sending her letters and poetry, her father steals what little money she and her mother have to pay his drug dealer.
Missy matures through this heartbreak, finds support from a friend, realizes she cannot save her father, and looks to her own future. And, very interestingly, Amanda West Lewis’ next book ‘Focus, Click, Wind’ follows Miranda to high school in Toronto. I will review that book soon.
This is a very compelling story, told intelligently, realistically, with poetry, with links to Shakespeare’s Tempest, with a slow realization that a person with addictions must want to change. Any senior elementary school or early teen could read it, learn and be enhanced by this extraordinary piece of literature. Any child going through a similar situation in their family would really benefit from it. That said, it may be a bit too real or concerning for some kids. Adults with similar situations in their family should definitely read it.
‘These Are Not the Words’ by Amanda West Lewis was published in Canada by Groundwood Books. It is available through Groundwood Books, from bookstores that carry the best books, from Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.