In Missing Mike, Vancouver Island–based writer Shari Green, known for her award-winning middle-grade verse novels Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles and Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, mines the dynamics of loss, change, and belonging when a family is forced to flee from encroaching wildfires.
As fifth-grade student Cara prepares to evacuate, she fills a “just-in-case” bag with only the most important things: two crossword puzzle books, pencils with good erasers, a sharpener, clothes, a stuffed bunny, and her dog Mike’s leash and squeaker toy. But her family’s harried evacuation forces them to leave Mike behind after he runs from the yard. Cara, her teenage sister, and her parents drive to safety in a nearby city, where they are taken in and cared for by volunteers. Cara reunites with her best friend, Heather, who was also evacuated, but learns that Heather’s family plans to start fresh in a new town rather than rebuild their lives in the wildfire-ravaged one. Feeling displaced, riddled with guilt over abandoning Mike, and devastated by Heather’s news, Cara searches for a sense of home.
The recognition of grey areas in life – and the attempts we make to classify and resolve them – is a theme well suited to upper-middle-grade readers; many will identify with Cara’s desire to have a solution for everything. Green highlights this struggle by including crossword clues and answers in the text, some of which Cara finds easier to solve than others. Her troubles resonate as well in the definitions of her puzzle words: for example, what is “lost” can be found, while what is “abandoned” does not always have the same potential for a happy ending.
While Green’s verse would benefit from more poetic devices and deliberate line breaks, her ability to convey complex emotions is on point: uncertainty, regret, nostalgia, loyalty, love, and friendship are palpable. Missing Mike is a novel that subtly shifts from being about a missing dog to become an exploration of the emotional journey of losing home and finding it once again.