Mira in the Present Tense

Mira in the Present Tense is the story of a preteen dealing with the illness and death of her grandmother.  The book is reviewed by Melissa G. at Sweet on Books.

What You Need to Know:

• Mira copes with typical teenage angst, while she also deals with her grandmother’s battle with cancer.
• The main character is a half Indian, half Jewish 12-year-old girl living in London.
• The grandmother’s careful planning of her last days, including her stay in hospice and her funeral, are integral
to the story.
• There is an innocent romance which includes a first kiss.
• Through a school friend, Mira becomes aware of the tragedies that took place in Rwanda.

Sweet Book Summary:

“When someone is dying, everything you say and do means more than it usually does. When
someone is dying, you notice things…everything really. The whole of life is in slow motion.”

The tween years can be complicated enough without having to deal with illness and death, as Mira is learning the hard way. She’s painfully shy and insecure unless she’s with her one and only friend, Millie. Speaking in class is a challenge and she’s the target of some bullying at school. Everything seems to change, though, on her 12th birthday. Maybe it’s her first period, or her thought-provoking writing teacher, Pat Print, or the fact that her crush, Jide Jackson seems to like her too. It could also be that watching her Nana Josie’s life come to an end has put things into perspective. Either way, she begins to figure out a little bit about who she is and who she wants to be. She starts to open up more in school, she begins a relationship with Jide, and she even talks back to those bullies.

Amidst this turmoil known as “growing up”, Mira spends most of her days with her dying grandmother. They paint Nana Josie’s coffin, pay one last visit to her cottage, say goodbyes to many of her friends, reminisce about her life, and accept meaningful gifts from her. Mira and her family are even there as Nana Josie enters a hospice, as she struggles for air when her lungs fill with liquid, and when she chooses pain relief over treatment. Mira is clearly very close with her grandmother, with whom she shares a love of painting, and from whom she appears to learn a great deal. Among her many words of wisdom, Nana explains that some people never learn to protect themselves and they’re the ones who need charms. For Mira, Nana’s companionship, writing in her journal, and participating in Pat Print’s writing class, seem therapeutic in helping her to cope with the larger than life issues she is facing.

Although Mira’s background is Jewish and Indian, neither seem to play a huge role in her life. This coming of age novel really focuses on Mira’s feelings, many of which contemplate death and dying, but many of which also reveal her thoughts on boys, friendship, school, family, God, and life. Yes, a string of sadness definitely runs through the pages, but as Mira realizes with a grandmother who has lived a good and full life, it is the natural order of things. Balancing the weight of Nana Josie’s death are all the people she has touched and all the positive memories she has left behind. You feel as if, despite the heartache they must now face, everyone is better off for having known Nana Josie, and that’s the same with Mira – despite the sadness that comes with her story, we are left better off for having shared it.

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