A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard
Skip is alone. After a series of bad foster homes, he skips out, thus the name, and lives on the streets of Seattle. There he searches the faces of strangers wondering if his mother is among them. He makes friends with a homeless man named Billy and although it is unreasonable, Skip truly hopes Billy will never leave. Then the unthinkable happens. Seattle is bombed and Skip’s world is turned upside down. In what is left of a library, Skip discovers six-year-old Max who is waiting for his mother who will never return. Together Billy, Skip, and Max make their way to an abandoned amusement park where they meet Tia the ballerina and her tiny baby. All Skip wants is a family and in this time of chaos he wonders, will he have the strength to keep everyone together?
A Small Free Kiss in the Dark is a rather melancholy book. Skip sees things through the eyes of an artist, with color and light, and even in the good times, I always saw a rather sullen child whose smile was always offset by some deeper sadness. I remember reading an interview with Suzanne Collins who said her Hunger Games series was really about war, which may be the reason why she lost sight of her characters. Millard never loses sight of the characters. This is a novel about war, but it is about how people handle war and what it does to us. Once you move past the fear, what is left? For Skip, the need for family is stronger than any ties he would have to a structure or a place. He is happy as long as they are all together whether that be under a table in the library or in a train car of a ride at an amusement park.
My two small issues with the book, that should by no means belittle the enjoyment of it, is the setting and adjectives. Although this story is set in Seattle, I always had the vague impression that the author had either not visited Seattle or had not been there in a while. I may be wrong, but in the beginning I kept wondering if perhaps this was a town in England or Australia, and soon discovered that the author hails from Australia and somehow that did not surprise me. This does not change what the book is about or how it reads at all, and since place means so little to Skip, it would have been okay if it had been anywhere in the world I should think. The other small issue is adjectives and similes. Although I was well aware that this was Skip’s story and he does see the world in a different way, the constant adjectives (sometimes strange ones) did throw me off. Iris-colored eyes, like a shattered stained glass window, the skyline was a bleeding mouth of broken teeth, peacock sea, violet sky, flyspeck-small. I began to grow tired of the strange adjectives and it reminded me of when you are taught poetry and they want you to describe items in a way that is different and unique. That’s how it felt, as if Millard was trying to be poetic. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it drove me bonkers. Why not just say ‘the sea’…we all know what it looks like, if it looks different, then tell us why.
Aside from those two (rather drawn out) points I found the story poignant and fascinating. It isn’t action packed or full of twists and turns, it’s just one boy’s simple journey to find a family even in the worst conditions.