The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

5 stars
Maggie is precocious, self absorbed, and completely loveable. From the first lines, her voice drew me in and held me in thrall till I finished the book. 

If only this book had been available when I was eleven or twelve. Aside from Pipi Longstocking, who lived a life free of crazy parents, everyone in my literary world lived in perfect families. Mine was not. Maybe that's why I lived so much of my life in books. If Maggie had been here then, I wonder if I might have been braver in my own life.

Maggie's father has multiple sclerosis. This book is her memoir of the year leading up to her 12th birthday.  It's heartbreaking, but at the same time, life affirming.  It's a kind of coming of age narrative. In this one year, Maggie comes to understand the magnitude of her father's illness.

My father used a wheelchair after being injured in a logging accident the year I was five. He returned home three years later, in so many ways, a changed person. Living in a family with someone who is chronically ill, (my father's kidneys were damaged as well) is challenging for everyone, and everyone deals with it in different ways.

All of this resonates in this book. As I read, I wept buckets. I wept for Maggie and her family. At the same time I wept for that little girl in me and my family. I can't remember when I last made this kind of profound personal connection to any novel.

Megan Jean Sovern's portrait of a family in the midst of crisis, is full of impeccably real characters. There are three girls. Maggie is the youngest. Tiffany is the middle child and Layla is the eldest. The older girls have a better grasp of what is going on than Maggie. There is the usual sibling squabbling, but also a coming together when they have to. When the father was forced, by his illness, to quit his job, their mother went out to work. She was tired all the time, and her absence, both physically and emotionally, leaves a void in their lives. Their father, who was once an unknown entity, is suddenly forced to take on the major caregiver role, a role he isn't equipped for. 

I know Maggie's family intimately, because our families lived through, and survived, a similar reality. I found my mother in Maggie's mom.  After my father came home, she went out to work. Especially in the early days, she was exhausted all the time from trying to do two jobs, the one of Mother, and the one of nurse in the hospital she worked in. I found my father in Maggie's father. When my father came home it wasn't easy for him to adjust to his changed role from family provider, to caretaker of a passel of small children. Although I empathise with Maggie, as the oldest of five children, I understand Layla best. Shouldering responsibility, and even taking on a parenting role, is what the eldest do at times like this.

There are many examples in this book that ring true for me about living in a family dealing with this kind of situation. Not the least is the magical thinking we try to hold onto. Maggie wondered if they went to church, God might fix her father. I remember when this kind of hope was part of my life. My father, like Maggie's, cured me of this.

Thank you Megan Jean Sovern for telling your story and helping me to understand that there are many families like ours. I'm so glad your novel will be there for kids dealing with similar realities today. 


  1. Wow, Cheriee. Just, wow! Terrific review that convinces me I must read the book.

  2. Dawn, you will love it! It is such a powerful story. I'm not sure that others who haven't had similar experiences will get all the nuances, but for children in similar circumstances this book will be a lifeline.

  3. Thanks for sending me this link, Cheriee. It must have been a powerful connection, and surprise, too, to discover this book. I'm glad that books like this are being written, for children, as you were, to realize they aren't alone. I had one student who cried over Wendy Mass's A Mango-Shaped Space, said it was just like him!