Empty and Me

By Kirkus Reviews

A child’s-eye view of the emotional impact of losing a parent.

In a dark apartment building, a tan-skinned protagonist stares at a photograph—“the last picture of Mom and me and the last pot we planted together.” The young narrator explains that soon after the picture was taken, Mom died. Empty, a translucent, bloblike figure, showed up soon after and became the narrator’s new constant companion and sole friend. Empty not only rides the bus with the narrator and walks the child home from school, Empty also literally comes between the narrator and Dad at dinner, on trips to the amusement park, and at bedtime. Slowly but surely, the protagonist’s relationship with Empty changes. The shift begins when the plant that the narrator planted with Mom flowers, and the narrator gives Empty one of the flowers. Soon after, the protagonist and Empty adopt a lost kitten. Featuring exquisite, muted illustrations, this heartbreakingly tender story includes spare text in both English and Persian. The author and artist portray the protagonist’s grief starkly and frankly while leaving plenty of literal and metaphorical space for readers to apply their own experiences. The ambiguous ending—it’s not clear what becomes of Empty—may confuse some readers given that the plot is otherwise straightforward, but with grounding from caregivers and educators, it may also spark conversation.

A devastatingly honest book about loss, mourning, and recovery.