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BOOK REVIEW: The Girl with the Lost Smile written by Miranda Hart and illustrated by Kate Hindley

| 22 August 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl with the Lost Smile written by Miranda Hart and illustrated by Kate Hindley

Hachette Children’s Group
October 2017
Paperback, $26.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Fiction / Children & Teenagers / Action & Adventure

7/10

As much as we’d love our lives to be one big festival of happiness, the reality is that we all have periods of sadness. UK comedian, Miranda Hart certainly knows this. She has used her own depressive episode as the inspiration for her debut children’s book, The Girl with the Lost Smile. The story is a brave and fantastical adventure that isn’t afraid to venture into some difficult places in order to make a great point or two.

This might sound really odd, but here’s the thing, and please keep reading till the end. You see, last week I lost my smile – I’m not sure where or exactly how, but I was too sad and worried to tell you, so I hid it from you and hoped it would come back. I have tried lots of things but it hasn’t returned. I decided to protect you all from whatever was happening to me, but I see now I ended up shutting you all out and made you feel bad too. Also, the reason I got grumpy on my birthday was because my mum and dad forgot (don’t think too badly of them). All they seem to do at the moment is argue and that might be because of me too, I guess.

Hart has previously written her memoirs and some joke books. For her debut children’s novel she borrows a few thematic ideas from her previous works while also drawing on her love of the late, great Roald Dahl. The result here is not unlike the world of pure imagination that Dahl created in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

She swung her feet to the floor to get up and go and see, and she felt a surge of ENERGY rise up from her toes, all the way through her, into the rest of her body. And then WHAM, it hit her: the memory of last night, meeting Godfrey and Hoppy, visiting Magic Land for real, the woodland band, the waves, the boat baths and the Shadow Bandits. Did it all ACTUALLY happen?
…It HAD BEEN real. WOW!
And even though her SMILE was still missing – Chloe had already checked in the mirror – and even though the thought of having to encounter those bandits again terrified her, she somehow felt more able to face the day.

Chloe Long is the little girl at the centre of Hart’s tale whose smile is currently M.I.A. It all begins when Chloe’s eleventh birthday arrives but her parents forget to do anything to celebrate. The Longs were once a cohesive and happy family unit but lately Mr and Mrs Long have been arguing a lot. They are financially strained and this has affected young Chloe who has been neglected at times. It is rather heart-breaking to witness this little girl blaming herself and thinking that she is the sole cause of her parents’ problems.

Chloe was singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to herself in bed. ‘Happy birthday to me… Happy birthday to me…’ Then to amuse herself she stood up on top of her bed and made a speech in a low silly voice. ‘Eleven years ago today Chloe Long was born, and what a day that was for the world …!’
‘PIPE DOWN IN THERE,’ shouted her father as he walked past her to use the bathroom. Chloe collapsed back down on to her rather thin mattress.
‘Hurry up and get ready for school,’ he boomed, then slammed the bathroom door shut muttering to himself, ‘…can’t get any peace in my own home… I don’t know…’
Chloe whispered a final, rather feeble ‘Happy birthday to me…’ as quietly as she could.

Despite this, there are actually moments of happiness in this book. Chloe’s grandmother is a constant source of good advice and pearls of wisdom. She is very loving and says thoughtful and constructive things like:

‘Don’t you know that you could NEVER disappoint me, my PERFECT girl? A SMILE is important in life, but so is being honest about how you are feeling, so those who love you can help you when your SMILE is flagging. There will be difficult days and times in every person’s life. And that’s all right. All you have to do is share, and ask for what you need. I’d love you even if you never SMILED again, but I don’t believe for a minute that your SMILE is gone for good. I believe it will come back when you are ready for it.’

Hart also includes some funny little jokes. These are framed as being favourites of Chloe’s. These should be a hit with the younger readers because they are simple but effective:

How do fish without cars get around?
On the OCTO-BUS!

Why does the SEA roar?
So would YOU if you had crabs on your BOTTOM!

At the end of the day, Chloe is a rather empowered and relatable character. The book follows her on the adventure she has with her two new friends, Godfrey and Hoppy. They venture to Magic Land where they must confront some evil shadow bandits. These things are all metaphors and allegories of modern life and Hart generally does a good job of weaving this all together while propelling the story forward.

You see, sometimes the world seemed hard to Chloe, full of adults who were sad and shouty and tired all the time. Which was why she made sure she was always SMILING and joking, ready to cheer everyone up. Gran Gran would say it all the time:
‘A SMILE COSTS NOTHING, BUT IS ONE OF THE BEST GIFTS YOU CAN GIVE ANYONE.’
And though it felt a little harder than usual today, Chloe had to agree.

What is a little disappointing is the repetitiveness of some of the prose. This novel is a tad overlong and some of the scenes could have been cut or shortened to make it a punchier effort. At over 360 pages it is quite a lot for the target readers of ages 8-12 to tackle, especially when one considers the weighty subject matter. Kate Hindley provides us with some lively and clever black and white illustrations. Some colourful ones would have worked well, and a little extra editing would also have gone a long way here.

The Girl with the Lost Smile tackles some poignant issues and features a number of excellent, take-home messages. Hart has produced an ambitious children’s debut and proves that you do not need to pander to younger readers in order to keep them entertained. The Girl with the Lost Smile reinforces the notion that we humans need courage, hope and love in our lives thanks to a brave little foot soldier and her adventure with some sweet friends. This is a story with a big heart and a whole lot of soul to match.

Natalie Salvo

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at: http://nataliesalvo.wordpress.com

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