Recommendation Rating: ★★★★★ (Buy the book and put it at the top of your queue).
Please familiarize yourself with my rating system before you fire off angry emails.
I’ll do a spoiler-free breakdown the hows and whys of the scoring at the top, the spoiler-ridden, full text review will follow.
Story/Plot: Milk is told in the first-person, through the eyes of Becky. It reads much like I would expect a teenage girl’s diary would. The story is told well and holds your interest, despite taking place mostly in the Becky’s mind.
Characterization: There are two primary characters in Milk: Becky and Mike. Both have unique personalities and their thoughts and actions always seem appropriate to their characters. Some details about each are hidden and only revealed as the story unfolds.
Originality: I am still toiling over this rating. At it’s heart, Milk is, as the title would suggest, a love story. The story of a teenage girl’s unrequited love is certainly nothing new, nor is the younger girl (or boy) misplacing that affection on someone well out of the appropriate age range. I found the way the story was told unique enough to merit a fairly high mark, though the familiarity of both subjects keep it from scoring higher.
Readability: The story was written wonderfully. Colorful metaphors mixed with wonderful descriptions to paint pictures of the places Becky and Mike visited. There are some minor mistakes in spelling and punctuation (which extend beyond the differences between American and British English). The most notable of which was a paragraph of action which was attributed as dialog near the end of the book. This required me to reread a portion of the page for clarification. For an indie book though, the trinity of spelling, grammar and punctuation are quite good. The lost points here are mostly due to the unusual formatting; spacing before and after every paragraph and no indentation. I used the ‘look inside’ feature on half a dozen of the top 100 books on Amazon UK to make sure this wasn’t some convention I wasn’t aware and found no other books formatted in this manner.
Engagement: Love stories are absolutely not my genre. This is the first such book I have completed beginning to end. The story roped me in quickly, mostly, I surmise, because it is so easy to identify with the insecurities and problems that plague Becky. My curiosity remained high throughout, though I (correctly) guessed how the story would end within the first few chapters.
Now on to the spoiler ridden review!
When I first began reading the story, I wondered why Meads chose to tell it from the first-person perspective of Becky. That became clear very quickly. Telling the story through her eyes allowed it to be told as a love story, while telling it from an omniscient point of view would have made it read like pedophile porn. While I can’t remember seeing a specific reference to Becky’s age, it is mentioned that he was ‘lying about her age’ when he said she was sixteen, while the sixteen-year-old subject of a painting had a ‘similarity in age’. I make the assumption that she must be either fourteen or fifteen. Through her eyes, it can be a love story, through any other eyes, it can not.
Through Becky’s eyes, it is easy to remember those feelings you had when you were her age. Your first crush. Your first love. Becky is mistakenly confusing and combining the two. In my mind I was torn between wanting her to get the object of her misplaced affection and wanting him to realize that the affection was indeed misplaced. Becky’s consent, indeed, her aggressiveness in the pursuit of Mike almost made you hope they would end up together.
Early in the story, Becky conveniently forgets her cell phone when she runs away with her potential beau. This cut her off from the outside world, and planted the seed about the way the story would end. That seed blossomed into a full-grown flower when she snapped a risque photo of herself on his camera much later in the story. That detail (the photo on the camera) is not revisited in the story, but I suspect may make its way into a sequel (if such a book is ever written). If that detail, which was mentioned quickly and seemed a bit out of context for this shy, insecure girl, were left out, I would have continued to guess at the ending while only suspecting I knew. Although I won’t spoil the ending here, in case I might have jumped to a conclusion that others may not.
Milk is a story of small details. A conveniently forgotten cell phone, a hidden photograph, a stolen glance, a broken heater, an accidental meeting in a bathroom, these all seem extraneous when first encountered, but when a hastily scribbled note mysteriously moves, you are made to question the nature of Mike and Becky’s relationship. One could read nothing more into it than the story of Becky’s misplaced love for Mike, and his moment of weakness in allowing himself to accept it. But these small details, peppered through the story, hint that things may not be what they seem; Becky might not have been nearly as in control as she thought she was.
Overall, the story was very well written. It dealt with a very delicate subject matter, but managed to do so without seeming immoral or obscene. You are ultimately left with more questions than answers. I am eager to read Meads next book, hoping that it continues the tale of Mike and Becky.