The Opal Octopus

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Review: What Milo Saw by Virginia MacGregor

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What Milo Saw
by Virginia Macgregor

Published by Little, Brown Book Group Limited
on 2014-07-29
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 400
five-stars
Review: What Milo Saw by Virginia MacGregor

Milo has a distracted mother whose beautician business is failing, a father who has run away with another woman who he impregnated at family Christmas, a Gran at home who he loves dearly, a pet pig called Hamlet, and a newish diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa.  Milo has no peripheral vision at all, seeing the world as if through a small tunnel. And this tunnel is closing: soon he will be blind.

When his mother places Gran in a nursing home, Milo is distraught. There is badly wrong at the home, and no-one will listen to him except for Tripi – an undocument immigrant who works as a cook at the home. What eventuates is a mission to expose the problems at the home, and to assist the residents into safe, secure accommodation.

There are a lot of great things about this book! The drawing of disability was splendid (in my opinion as a non-blind person). Milo is a whole character who just happens to have retinitis pigmentosa. His journey in the book is not primarily about his disability, it’s about his love for his Gran and his pursuit of justice. At the same time, his near-blindness isn’t a non-issue: it causes issues in his everyday life, especially at school, where it is clear accommodations and skills development haven’t been put in place at all. Part of the reason for this is that his mother really isn’t paying attention to Milo at the moment, and Milo is at risk of slipping through the cracks. At one point in the book someone does observe that his ability to concentrate visually on only one thing at a time may sometimes be to his advantage. I thought this was an interesting take in context, and it wasn’t laboured or overdone into a Disability Superpower.

The book also addresses issue of refugee homelessness and insecurity, through the character Tripi, and again not in an Issue-Book way. I thought this was very well done

I did have some gender issues with What Milo Saw. A large number of the women in this book are awful – the homewrecker they call “The Tart”, the almost cartoonishly evil nursing home director, the neglectful mother. This does turn around somewhat as the book goes on. I especially liked the older women of nursing home being awesome toward the end of the book – but I spent the first half of the book growling about this problem. And at least the two male people saving the day aren’t white nondisabled folks.

Overall: I loved What Milo Saw. It’s an unusual story, absolutely absorbing, with a memorable protagonist and a varied, idiosyncratic cast of characters.

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