Summary and book reviews of A Million Things by Emily Spurr

A Million Things

by Emily Spurr

A Million Things by Emily Spurr X
A Million Things by Emily Spurr
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    Aug 2021, 304 pages

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Book Summary

A soaring, heartfelt debut following fifty-five days in the life of ten-year-old Rae, who must look after herself and her dog when her mother disappears.

For as long as Rae can remember, it's been her and Mum, and their dog, Splinter; a small, deliberately unremarkable, family. They have their walks, their cooking routines, their home. Sometimes Mum disappears for a while to clear her head but Rae is okay with this because Mum always comes back.

So, when Rae wakes to Splinter's nose in her face, the back door open, and no Mum, she does as she's always done and carries on. She tends to the house, goes to school, walks Splinter, and minds her own business—all the while pushing down the truth she isn't ready to face.

That is, until her grumpy, lonely neighbor Lettie—with her own secrets and sadness—falls one night and needs Rae's help. As the two begin to rely on each other, Rae's anxiety intensifies as she wonders what will happen to her when her mother's absence is finally noticed and her fragile world bursts open.

A Million Things transforms a gut-wrenching story of abandonment and what it's like to grow up in a house that doesn't feel safe into an astonishing portrait of resilience, mental health, and the families we make and how they make us in return.

The First Days

Silence isn't really silent.

It's not loud, exactly. But it sits under things, making the little sounds stand out: my heartbeat in my ears, the sharp echo of the kitchen clock, the fridge humming. I move, and the rustle of me fills my head. Splinter laps water from his bowl. His eyes tell me when it's time to eat. Alarms go off when it's time to wake.

Sleep, wake, eat, school, home, homework, dinner, TV, sleep. Wake.

Time goes weird. It keeps tripping over itself and dropping things. I stand in one room and then I'm sitting in another, but how I got there is gone.

And something grows. Pushing into my head. Something else.

Day 14
Saturday

The smell eventually drifts into all the corners of the house. It's got to the point I can smell it from the lounge room. A heavy stink, seeping weighty and liquid, bad enough to drag me up from sleep.

At first, before I moved to the couch, I tried sleeping in your bed, wrapped in your duvet, one of your T-shirts pressed to my nose. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How do you see the relationship between Splinter and Rae? Is he her protector? An extension of her? Her dependent (someone who needs her and keeps her going)? Or something else?
  2. The character of Rae's mother, though central to the book, is never seen directly by the reader; we see her only through Rae's memories and thoughts. What sort of picture of Rae's mother do you, as the reader, form from this perspective?
  3. Why do you think the author might have chosen to show you Rae's mother in this way?
  4. The theme of home is strong in this novel. How do each of the characters Rae, Lettie and Oscar differ or coincide in their experiences of, and relationship to, home?
  5. Consider what is unsaid in Rae's narration. Do you think there are insights to...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I fell hard for Rae, the protagonist in this novel. What a strong, smart, scrappy, vulnerable and resourceful little girl. The relationship that develops between Rae and Lettie, the neighbor with a hoarding tendency, added such depth. Every character in this book, from Rae's teacher, Mrs. Pham, to Oscar, the boy down the street, lends something important to move the story along (Jennie R). The character development of the quirky people who live in this neighborhood is great. They are all very believable; they are compelling (Susan W). I won't soon forget narrator Rae, her neighbor Lettie or her sweet beast of a dog Splinter. But the nameless mother is also an interesting character, more so because she develops in the literary equivalent of negative space (Ann B)...continued

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Spurr delivers a haunting account of a young girl grappling with abandonment in this excellent debut.

Author Blurb Graeme Simsion, New York Times bestselling author of The Rosie Project
An original and impressively assured debut. A gem of a novel.

Author Blurb Amy Jo Burns, author of Shiner
Swept me into its thrall so immediately that I didn't realize I'd been holding my breath until I reached the end...Fresh and slim, this novel pierces like a bullet and soothes like a psalm.

Author Blurb Catherine Jinks
Poignant, uplifting and beautifully written.

Reader Reviews

Marissa Panigrosso

Awesome
Wonderful book on the order of Where the Crawdad Sings. The characters are so well developed and quirky. The book keeps pulling you in and never wanting it to end.
Cherryl V. (San Francisco, CA)

Lovely read
A captivating read that's hard to put down, this book is one of my favorite new releases in 2021. It reframes the notion of family and what it means to belong and find your place in the world. Really timely and thought-provoking.
DeAnn A. (Denver, CO)

Emotional Debut Story
This book really snuck up on me and then proceeded to rip my heart out. It has been a while since I had to stop reading because of the tears pouring down my face. Rae is a precocious ten-year-old and loves her trusty dog Splinter. Her nosy older ...   Read More
Ann B. (Kernville, CA)

tugs at the heartstrings
I devoured this debut novel by Australian author Emily Spurr. Remarkable for its theme, its characters, and its humanity, the book is written from the second-person point of view, the 'you' directed at the narrator's mother. I won't soon forget ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Sleeping Beauty (Briar Rose)

Sleeping Beauty by Henry Meynell Rheam In A Million Things by Emily Spurr, 10-year-old Rae recalls her mother reading her the story of Briar Rose. Briar Rose, better known as Sleeping Beauty, is a popular fairy tale character. While many people may be familiar with recent versions of her story, including the 1959 animated Disney adaptation, the tale is centuries old and has gone through multiple incarnations, some of them much more sinister than the child-friendly version told today.

The story began to gain its current foothold on popularity in the 1630s, with a collection of tales by Giambattista Basile, based on oral folk narratives taken from areas of present-day Italy. Basile's collection included fairy tale characters such as Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty....

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