The Phone, The Phone is Ringing: You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis
When I first heard about Stewart Lewis’ You Have Seven Messages, the first thing that came to mind was the movie One Missed Call. Now, I have not seen One Missed Call, but I think I can safely say that You Have Seven Messages is, in fact, nothing like it. For those of you whose minds play similar word association games, do not fear. Or maybe that’s just me.
You Have Seven Messages does deal with death, but not quite in that way. When the book begins, it has been a year since Luna’s mother was killed in an accident with a NYC taxi. Luna and her father and brother are still grieving, but they are mostly grieving silently and alone. Luna comes from money and talent: Her father is a filmmaker and her mother was a model and author. She has grown up around celebrities and drivers in a life of connections and privilege, but no amount of money will bring back her mom or help her to connect with her family. When Luna goes to her mom’s old studio, she finds a few diary entries on the computer as well as her mom’s cell phone, complete with seven messages.
With the help of the boy next door, a cello-playing wunderkind whom Luna secretly loves, she investigates the messages left on the phone in an attempt to better understand her mom. As Luna begins to piece together the events surrounding her mother’s death, she wonders if the accident may have been less accidental than it originally appeared, and whether the relationship her parents’ had was anything like the picture that had been painted for her.
You Have Seven Messages is part coming-of-age story, part romance, and part mystery. I was immediately drawn into the book by Luna’s voice, and sustained by the slow and steady suspense as well as the need to see Luna through her suffering. Luna is precocious; her voice is mature and she is often treated like an adult by those around her. Yet, at times, it is clear that she is still only 15 and has a lot to learn.
The relationships in You Have Seven Messages consistently illustrate that people can both hurt each other and love each other at the same time–a lesson that Luna has to keep learning over and over again as she comes to realize that the world is not all black and white, and that the adults she idolized are imperfect people who make mistakes. Luna’s brother Tile, burdened though he is with a celebrity-style name, is a charming budding filmmaker who is similarly struggling to move on in life without a mother. Through Luna and Tile’s conversations, one can better understand the temptation to shelter those who are younger from some of life’s more difficult truths.
Though Luna’s circumstances might be hard to believe or relate to for the average reader, the difficulty of navigating her family relationships and the grief she feels in the absence of her mother make her character human and sympathetic. Further, the characters’ interests and hobbies–music, photography, and film–make them increasingly realistic and relatable. One might not believe the relative ease with which Luna lands her first art show, but despite that, most teens will understand her desperate desire to succeed in life on her own merits, independent of her family name. Luna’s experiences may be incredibly specific to her lifestyle, but the emotional truths that resonate throughout the book are universal.
You Have Seven Messages is a beautiful exploration of life for a teen girl forced to confront the reality that wealth cannot protect her from the emotional impoverishment that follows the loss of her mother.