My Last Day as a Genius
In the 1970s, many themes that had previously been considered off-limits were tackled in new, more gritty and realistic books for young adults. Taboos were there to be broken and authors did so with gusto. However, there still seem to be some subjects that have never before been explored in children’s books. In Mijn laatste dag als genie, Tanneke Wigersma tells the tragic and shocking story of a girl who would prefer not to exist.
Unhappy heroes are nothing new, but Wigersma’s protagonist Meije has no reason at all to be sad. She comes from a loving family, is doing well at school and her friend Fay is the best friend a fifteen-year-old could wish for. But that’s all on the outside, and on the inside Meije feels lonely and unhappy. She cannot, will not, dare not speak about it.
So she lies and says that everything’s fine, even when she is struck down by a serious illness. Because the illness suits her plans perfectly. Now she doesn’t have to jump off a block of flats or in front of a train (‘let’s be honest, the place for organs is on the inside’), but can instead die amongst the people she loves. And that is exactly what happens. But not before Meije has confided her secret in her diary, safe in the belief that Fay will burn it after her death. However, Fay has second thoughts and she reads with astonishment about how her friend fooled everyone.
Wigersma’s sentences are short, her choice of words is simple, but there’s so much to read between the lines: Meije’s loneliness and fear, Fay’s incredulity and anger, the all-consuming grief of her distraught parents. Mijn laatste dag als genie is not just an exceptionally clever book, it’s also a very brave one. Wigersma’s success in writing about such a controversial subject with so much compassion says a great deal about her talent as a writer.
By Joukje Akveld