‘My Name is Mina’, published in 2010, is a prequel to ‘Skellig’, published by David Almond in 1998. I read Skellig a very long time ago, and remember loving it, which is why I gave this book a go.
It is the story of Mina McKee – the way Mina plays with words in this book, it’s not too far a leap to hear her name in a ‘minor key’. The book is written as her journal, and it is presented with different typefaces for different experimentations and playings with words. I wasn’t sure I liked this at first, but it actually works very well. I like the way perspective is played with in this book. Instead of there being more than one character’s perspective, we are told the story through Mina’s eyes, but she changes perspective at times, writing about herself in the third person. Events are not told in a linear way, but as and when Mina feels she can tell them.
Mina is being homeschooled at the moment, because of an incident at school on SATS day. Mina is very open about her memory being slightly selective and admits to some embellishment of the incident. I love the way that this means that we have to read it with our peripheral vision, in a sense – we cannot look directly at the scene to know what happened. We need to look at the edges and the hints. This lovely reveal/not reveal leaves scope for interpretation. The incident involves her teacher, Mrs Scullery, and THE HEAD TEACHER, a piece of writing called, ‘Glibbertysnark’ and Mina’s mother being called in to school. We are not told, but that must make Mina about 11 years old, since in the UK the SATS are tested at Year 2 and Year 6.
Mina’s father died many years ago, so that her memories of him feel, at times, like dreams…’I half-remembered the smell of his breath and the stubble on his cheek as he kissed me goodnight, the slight roughness of his skin as he stroked my cheek, his voice as he whispered me his Good Night. And I lay with the books around me and the strange half-vague, half-intense memories* inside me, and felt very small indeed.’ The asterisk is for a footnote – I am not quite sure how I feel about these. Sometimes they feel like they were written by an older Mina – sometimes they feel a bit contrived -but actually I think that’s OK, since this is Mina’s journal, and she is very much experimenting with language and who she is, and what everything means…and that can sound contrived at times.
Like one or two other readers of this book, I feel that I didn’t fully engage with Mina until about halfway through the book. She doesn’t make it easy for you. While I felt her mother was presented as a loving and wise person, I really felt she was not developed at all as a character. Again, this is appropriate – in the sense that children don’t question who their parents are, as characters, or their motivations, apart from how they affect the child. There was one moment where we caught a glimpse of Mum’s real life, when Mina reflects on her day at Corinthian Avenue (an alternative school), where she ‘saw’ her father, and she realises it’s just possible her mother may have spent some time with Colin Pope. ‘When I look back now, I suspect that Mum had her own secret that afternoon…I remember seeing her smile to herself as we drove across the river. Was it Colin Pope? Had she taken the chance to be with him that day, freed from her weird daughter? I suspect she had.’
Once you do engage with Mina, she’s kind of stuck like glue…she’s very hard to get out of your head. It is well worth taking the time…this is a great read. In many ways I would like to give it five stars, but because it is so hard to get to the point where you commit to the book, I feel I can only give it four.