A Short Girl, Feeling Unseen, Fixates on a Boy Who Vanished

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By Meg Wolitzer

By Pamela Erens

It’s not likely that the lineup of guests appearing on “The Tonight Show” in Pamela Erens’s thoroughly winning novel “Matasha” will mean much to most of its readers, since George Gobel, Cloris Leachman and Truman Capote don’t tend to be household names to today’s 10- to 14-year-old set. Even the novel’s eponymous heroine, an 11-year-old girl growing up in Chicago in the mid-1970s, admits that she has heard of only one of them. The period detail that runs liberally through this book hasn’t been included for memory-lane purposes. It’s here as texture and evidence, helping to fortify the feeling of being Matasha Wax, a sixth grader who sometimes watches Johnny Carson with her family’s housekeeper, and who started reading the newspaper “properly” two years earlier, where she learned all about Patty Hearst and Watergate. She also read “about the South Vietnamese families who were fleeing the country in boats and about the children who had lost their parents on the way. Her mother said she wanted to adopt one. A girl.”

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