by Megan E. Freeman
Synopsis: When twelve-year-old Maddie hatches a scheme for a secret sleepover with her two best friends, she ends up waking up to a nightmare. She’s alone—left behind in a town that has been mysteriously evacuated and abandoned.
With no one to rely on, no power, and no working phone lines or internet access, Maddie slowly learns to survive on her own. Her only companions are a Rottweiler named George and all the books she can read. After a rough start, Maddie learns to trust her own ingenuity and invents clever ways to survive in a place that has been deserted and forgotten.
As months pass, she escapes natural disasters, looters, and wild animals. But Maddie’s most formidable enemy is the crushing loneliness she faces every day. Can Maddie’s stubborn will to survive carry her through the most frightening experience of her life?
Review: 2/5 Stars ★★☆☆☆
I was not a fan of this book. However, this is not to say that Alone was not a good book. On the contrary, I found it to be a very well written novel. Allow me to explain.
I am very skeptical of novels-in-verse, so I was hesitant to read this one, but it set a precedent for the level of excellence I would expect were I to read another, for it was excellently written. I found the words picked and placed strategically, and enjoyed the formatting fun that accented what was going on inside Maddie’s head. (Maddie? Or Madeline? I’m pretty sure her name only comes up twice.)
I am a big proponent of using less words to tell a story—when you leave more up to the reader’s imagination and don’t spell it out for them, they are forced to come up with it themselves, and anything that a reader comes up with or comes to their own conclusion on will always be more powerful than anything you could tell them—but I had no idea the possibility of the power of so few words. I have never been more anxious or scared reading a book. I have read scenes in other books describing the destruction of a tornado and not been fazed, but Freeman’s less-than-ten-word explanation had me convinced there was a tornado coming for me. My overactive imagination did not combine well with the novel-in-verse format, which suggested just enough to get my brain spinning, but not enough to ground me from my own imagination.
The point is, the writing style of this book, despite my skepticism, impressed me. I could tell the author is someone who is skilled with words, and that I can respect. I just have many problems with the content itself.
As someone who enjoys studying psychology, I found this book rife with improbabilities and incorrect perceptions. I felt for Maddie’s struggle with being from broken home, and appreciated the few words given to the cause, but I did not like how the book took the perspective of, “This is normal and okay and she is okay.” Of course I am in favor of supporting kids like Maddie, but the truth is, growing up in a broken home is not easy and does affect kids negatively. Saying that it doesn’t sends the message to kids that their problem isn’t actually a problem, and this entirely disregards their struggle. The truth of the matter is that it is not healthy for a child to change homes every week. Obviously there are scenarios where this is the best option for the child, and it’s not a death sentence by any means; it’s just not the preferred or most optimal way for a child to grow up. My point being, Maddie does struggle, and instead of telling readers like her that it’s okay to struggle, and that their feelings are valid, this book leans toward telling kids they shouldn’t have to struggle because their life is perfectly fine as it is.
Speaking of struggle, I found it so hard to believe that Maddie survived and kept a sound mind for so long being so young. Maybe this book is supposed to be more fairy-tale or fantastical, but the ominous, eerie verse narration suggested otherwise. Here little Maddie is, three years in, still managing to keep herself and her dog alive, AND has mental energy leftover to tell herself to stop feeling sorry for herself? I’m not sure how this would realistically happen. What I mainly had an issue with was the potential messaging of, “If a girl who has been on her own for three years can cheer up and get over herself, surely you can get over your issues.” This is a toxic and dangerous message, and I’m very disappointed there was no correction of this issue within the pages. It would have been a great opportunity to show how Maddie is allowed to feel things and is allowed to ask for help and is allowed to feel sad. Instead, we get the impression that a true heroine cheers up and stuffs it, and that message is never corrected.
The ending annoyed me with how perfect everything was. It left me with a permeating feeling like I had wasted two hours of my time. I felt Maddie’s pain, and I don’t think I liked that, mostly because there was no real payoff. Maddie’s only real character arc is she learns to not feel sorry for herself (when she’s literally in the most traumatic situation of her life) and learns to enjoy her life exactly where she’s at, even if it is alone in a house. In what world would you ever tell a child experiencing trauma that they need to cheer up and enjoy life? Maddie went through extreme trauma. Telling her to enjoy her trauma is messed up.
So, while I can respect the verse the novel was written in, I cannot stand behind anything those words convey. 2.0 stars.