Summary

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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1048

Author: Jenny Valentine (b. 1970)

First published: Finding Violet Park, 2007, in the United Kingdom

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Coming-of-age; Mystery

Time of plot: 2007

Locale: London, England

Principal characters

Lucas Swain , a teenager who discovers the ashes of Violet Park in a London cab...

(The entire section contains 1048 words.)

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Author: Jenny Valentine (b. 1970)

First published: Finding Violet Park, 2007, in the United Kingdom

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Coming-of-age; Mystery

Time of plot: 2007

Locale: London, England

Principal characters

Lucas Swain, a teenager who discovers the ashes of Violet Park in a London cab office

Violet Park, a deceased concert pianist whose remains have been cremated

Nicky Swain, Lucas's mother

Pete Swain, his missing father

Mercy Swain, his older sister

Jed Swain, his younger brother

Pansy and Norman Swain, his grandparents

Bob Cutforth, Pete's former colleague and friend

Ed, Lucas's friend

Martha Hooper, Lucas's girlfriend

The Story

First published as Finding Violet Park in the United Kingdom in 2007, Me, the Missing, and the Dead (2008) is the debut novel by British young-adult and children's author Jenny Valentine. The novel follows Lucas Swain, a teenager who lives in London with his mother, Nicky, and his siblings, Mercy and Jed. The Swain children's journalist father, Pete, disappeared five years before the start of the novel, and Lucas is unsure whether his father is dead or has just abandoned the family. Although long preoccupied by the mystery of his father's disappearance, an unexpected encounter at the start of the novel provides Lucas with a new preoccupation as well as eventual clues about his father's whereabouts. While returning home from his friend Ed's house at five o'clock one morning, he decides to take a cab the rest of the way and goes to a local cab office to find one. When he enters the office, his attention is immediately drawn to an urn sitting on a shelf, which he learns had been there for years. Lucas leaves the urn there but returns to the cab office not long after to find out more about the urn and its contents. He learns that the urn contains the cremated remains of an elderly woman named Violet Park who had died five years before. Shortly after her death, a passenger left the urn in a cab, and it has been waiting to be reclaimed ever since.

Feeling as if Violet is trying to communicate with him and hoping to free her remains from the cab office, Lucas visits his grandparents, Pansy and Norman, and tells them about what he has experienced. Pansy calls the cab office pretending to be Violet's sister, and the office's supervisor soon releases the urn into her custody. From that point, Lucas works to learn more about Violet, who seems to be suddenly everywhere. After noticing her name in the credits of an old film, he determines that she was a Tasmanian-born concert pianist and a frequent contributor to film scores. When he visits the dentist, he notices a self-portrait of Violet in the office, and after the dentist tells him where her house was located, he realizes it was one he has walked by numerous times. Perhaps the most surprising revelation, however, is that his father knew Violet personally and at one point was working on a book about her life.

As Lucas learns more about Violet, he likewise begins to piece together the truth about his father based on clues offered by his immediate family, Norman, and Pete's former friend and colleague Bob Cutforth. When his mother decides that the time has come to dispose of Pete's remaining belongings, Lucas discovers a box in the attic that is labeled with Violet's name and contains a single cassette tape. He listens to the tape and is shocked when he hears Violet ask his father to help her die. After speaking with Bob, who believes that Pete ultimately did help Violet kill herself, Lucas becomes unsure whether his father fled out of fear of legal trouble or whether Pete received an inheritance from Violet and used her death as an opportunity to leave his family. Having realized that it was his father who left the urn in a cab years before, Lucas scatters Violet's ashes in the Thames River, accompanied by his girlfriend, Martha, as well as Bob. At the novel's conclusion, Lucas learns that his father is most likely alive and living in New Zealand under an assumed name. He mails the empty urn to him, having affixed a piece of paper bearing his father's name, birth date, and date of death—the year he left his family—to the side.

Critical Evaluation

With Me, the Missing, and the Dead, Jenny Valentine presents a compelling narrative that raises thought-provoking questions about the nature of death and mortality. The author has explained in interviews that Violet was based on an elderly woman she met as a teenager, whose urn was kept in an office after her death. The idea of the urn remained with Valentine for years, becoming the central concept around which the novel formed. While the urn is key to the novel, however, it is not the only contributor to the novel's overarching themes of death. Indeed, death is a constant presence throughout Me, the Missing, and the Dead: Lucas frequently wonders if his father has been killed in an accident or become a victim of foul play, Pansy becomes abruptly aware of her mortality after breaking a hip, and Martha's mother dies partway through the book. At the same time, the novel, with its almost supernatural series of chance discoveries and surprising coincidences, seems to suggest that the dead may at times be more alive than the living. Although Violet has been dead for half a decade, she exerts a strong influence over living characters such as Lucas, and her presence leads to the resolution of mysteries that might have otherwise gone unsolved. At the same time, Pete Swain, although technically alive and living in New Zealand under the name Orlando Park, is effectively dead to Lucas by the novel's conclusion. Having come to terms with his father's absence, Lucas is no longer haunted by a living person's ghost.

Further Reading

  • Coats, Karen. Review of Me, the Missing, and the Dead, by Jenny Valentine. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books,vol. 61, no. 11, 2008, p. 500.
  • Review of Me, the Missing, and the Dead, by Jenny Valentine. Kirkus, 20 May 2010, www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jenny-valentine/me-the-missing-and-the-dead. Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.
  • Review of Me, the Missing, and the Dead, by Jenny Valentine. Publishers Weekly, 21 Apr. 2008, www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-06-085068-5. Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.
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