Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lombardo is the charming tale of an adolescent girl faced with the aftermath of her older sister’s death. Pushed in front of a train by a man still on the loose, Helene was the apple of her parent’s eye, and they are left in a fog in the wake of her death. Mathilda, the younger sibling, is alone in her attempts to try to piece together some semblance of a life without her sister. As the one-year anniversary of Helene’s death approaches, Mathilda sets out to learn more about her sister’s life. In her quest to meet a mysterious “Louis,” recipient of her sister’s emails, Mathilda reveals her real immaturity. Unable to talk to her parents about her sister, Mathilda dons a dress of Helene’s, sending her mother into a tailspin. However, amid Mathilda’s moments of pure childishness, she is faced with situations in which she is expected to behave as an adult. In a voice that is in one moment hilarious, and heartbreaking the next, Mathilda rises to the occasion.
In his debut novel, poet and playwright Victor Lombardo brings us a less-jaded female Holden Caulfield. In her innocence, Mathilda’s voice is wry, yet painfully honest. Although she is determined to get her parent’s attention by being awful, her attempts at awful-ness are thwarted by her own longing for her sister. She says it best as she reads a story about a man facing death: “When I read the story, I felt like I’d written half of it myself, and the author guy was responsible for the other half. And when the two halves come together, it was like the end of amnesia and all the memories came flooding back. The best stories are like that. They’re like spaceships. They take you somewhere far away and you think, oh, what a weird place. But then you think, wait, maybe I’ve been here before. Maybe I was even born here.”
And that’s what it’s like to read Mathilda’s story, told her her distinctive voice. The truth is, we’ve all been there. At its heart, Mathilda Savitch is a quietly powerful American coming of age story. As she joins the ranks of Huck Finn, Scout Finch, and Holden Caulfield, I’ll be looking forward to Victor Lombardo’s second novel.
Book #1: In One Person by John Irving