Hardcover, 128 pages
Published June 10th 2008 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
MÉLIE’S MOTHER IS sometimes nice, sometimes mean—prone to erratic behavior that Mélie does her best to cope with. As a young girl, she invents rituals to protect herself from her mother’s moods; but as Mélie becomes a teenager, the years of tiptoeing around her own home take their toll, and Mélie sinks into increasing unhappiness. No one understands her situation.
No one understands that Mélie is treated like a thorn in her mother’s side. Since Mélie’s mother isn’t capable of change, it’s up to Mélie to find the strength to break free.
Like a Thorn approaches many difficult topics with a surprisingly light hand. A mother who is obviously suffering from some kind of mental disorder – it never is specified and a daughter who develops autism whether in reaction to her mother’s vacillating regard or naturally. The novel is desperately sad and I felt for Melie as she navigates her childhood and then adolescence not knowing how to react to the kind of mother she’ll find waiting for her when she gets home from school. I was always afraid that she would try to kill herself if things continued in the same vein. Vidal successfully portrays how alone Melie is even when she is supposedly surrounded by people who love her and only want the best for her.
The most tragic scene is when she does reach out for help from her maternal grandmother and ends up spurned and lectured as the grandmother takes offence at the criticism shown her daughter, Melie’s mother. The novel doesn’t give any neat answers or happy endings – it just gives a glimpse of what might be a possible solution to Melie’s problem: therapy. It is refreshing to read something like this that portrays therapy as a positive thing, as a step in the right direction.
I recommend this book for kids who are having trouble at home. It seems like a good way to familiarize them with such difficult themes. Even though the subject is heavy, there will be many aspects of Melie that children will identify with.