This is a book about a twelve year old girl whose life is being turned upside down. Her Nana is dying. The cancer has come back and Mira and her family are watching as, slowly, Nana Josie fades away before their eyes. It doesn't make sense to Mira - how someone as outspoken and quirky, as dazzling and as beautiful, as loving and as permanent as Nana Josie can slip away from her... and yet it is happening.
At the same time Mira is growing up. She is starting to keep secrets from even her best friend Millie, the bully's are getting worse at school, and her cheeks are turning an indiscreet shade of bright red every time the fascinating Jidé Jackson looks her way. Life is becoming complicated.
At the same time, Pat Print has arrived - an author who runs a writing group at school. And suddenly Mira is learning not only to write, but to show her true self and to laugh out loud without being embarrassed. Mira Levenson is a mixed-up mind-maze and she cannot let anyone in. But Pat Print, with her dog called Moses and her new way of looking at the world starts to change the way Mira feels about herself and the way she looks at other people. But can any of that make a difference when her Nana is still dying and her heart is about to break?
This book really makes you feel as well as think. The characters are so well developed that with little actual description, Sita Brahmachari really makes you feel as if you know them and can relate them to people in your own life.
In a way this book is about death but I think it would be more accurate to say that it is about life. When Mira's grandmother is dying she learns a lot about Nana Josie's life and catches a glimpse of the whole person she is, not just the part Mira knows of her. Nana Josie's way of seeing life is not simple, but, in an extraordinary way, it seems to make a kind of joy seep through the book even when the themes are very sad.
There is a lot in this book. It is full of stories and meaning and problems but the plot does not seem over-crowded or chaotic because everything seems to connect in a way I really appreciated when reading it.
For me personally, there was also a definite element of spirituality to this book. I do not know whether or not it was intended or whether it would strike other people in the same way, but as I read this book I found myself reading into some of the characters, a sort of other-worldliness which at times Mira herself does wonder about. But at the same time they appear as very real and very human and I think that is partly what this book is about.
Nana Josie doesn't believe in angels and devils much and the extent of Mira's spiritual life is the occasional bargain with someone that she calls Notsurewho Notsurewhat, but Nana believes in the spirit and the hearts of people. However this shouldn't put anyone off reading this book if they don't think that this is what they want to read about. It is simply proof of how much you can get out of reading it and I think probably of the way it can affect people differently.
Whoever you are, this book probably contains something you want to read about and it definitely contains something that you should.
One reason I had for particularly wanting to read this book was that I have been in the same position when I was the same age as Mira. I wasn't sure what to expect when I started Artichoke Hearts because I didn't know if it could quite sum up anything like what it feels like to lose someone in that way.
I would recommend this book especially to anyone who has lost a relative to a terminal illness as there is something unique about it which makes this representation of loss and bereavement and of growing up, really beautiful.