By Alex Marestaing
Publisher: Mymilou Press
* A copy was provided by the author for review.
To Sum It Up:Following the death of his older sister, Caleb Reed withdrew from the world. Now thirteen, agoraphobic, and obsessed with watching the same recorded episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos every night, Caleb also keeps a wary eye on the abandoned mansion across the street. The precise, orderly bubble that he’s enclosed himself in is shattered when the mansion suddenly shows signs of activity, and a mysterious note penned by a stranger turns up on his doorstep. Both afraid and curious to find out what’s going on, Caleb works up the courage to leave the safety of his house for the first time in years. He needs to know who’s writing to him, but the answer may not be at all what he was expecting.
Review:I’m Nobody is one of those books that’s a bit difficult to classify genre-wise. I’m drawn to these types of reads because I like seeing how the author synthesizes the elements from different categories of fiction. I’d say that I’m Nobody has an overall contemporary feel to it, but once you factor in the possibility that Emily Dickinson may be corresponding from beyond the grave with a thirteen-year-old boy, well, there’s your genre twist right there. Alex Marestaing does a wonderful job of both giving this premise plausibility and incorporating Dickinson’s poetry into the narrative.
This is a deeply poignant, and ultimately uplifting, novel. I don’t think it’s possible to not have your heart torn apart by the main character, Caleb. At thirteen, he’s a shut-in, obsessed with maintaining the meticulous routine he’s established for himself over the six years since the death of his older sister, Anneliese. It’s a loss he hasn’t recovered from, much to the distress of his parents. Caleb’s father is exasperated with his son’s condition and wants to send him to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. Caleb’s mother prefers to just hope that he’ll get better on his own, a hope that she knows isn’t likely to be realized. This portrait of a family broken by grief is gut-wrenching, but not in a way that comes off as cloying. My patience for books that push sappiness to its treacly limit is almost nonexistent, but the shadow of tragedy that hangs over I’m Nobody feels all too real.
I was absorbed by Caleb’s battle to overcome his fear of setting foot outside of his house to retrieve the cryptic notes that begin appearing out of nowhere. His progress is agonizingly slow, but it’s progress nonetheless. Each tiny step away from his front door represents a victory, and I cheered him on the entire time. Watching him grow more and more confident and eventually connecting with people whose lives his sister touched were the highlights of the book for me.
At first I wasn’t too thrilled with Iris, a former classmate of Caleb’s whose dreams of becoming a famous filmmaker bring her to Caleb’s street. She gets the brilliant idea to make a film about him, and I was uneasy with the potential exploitation of Caleb's adversity here. I was relieved to discover that Iris wasn’t devoid of a conscience; she asks Caleb for his permission to film him. The two strike up a friendship that is very sweet and built up at a nice, gradual pace.
I really enjoyed reading this, though I thought the ending cut off a little too soon. I know this is the start of a series, but I could have used a few more pages of closure for this installment. It’s a minor thing, however, and doesn’t detract from how moving Caleb’s story is.