- Just under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno
Library ed. ISBN 978-1-5247-2009-4 $19.99
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-5247-2008-7 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-5247-2010-0 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys Ad Gr. 4-7
Life has not been easy for twelve-year-old Cora: her father died six years ago, she’s charged with the after-school care of her ten-year-old sister, Adare, who has mental challenges resulting from oxygen deprivation at birth, and she and her mother and sister are living in a homeless shelter. When their room at the homeless shelter is broken into, their mother takes them to the swanky apartment of her friend Willa. Cora’s mother wants to move on to a new social services placement, but Cora loves the stability and comforts of the apartment. Meanwhile, Cora struggles to keep her father’s memory alive, negotiate a new friendship, keep Adare safe, and define for herself what she means by home. Despite the trim page count, the pace of this atmospheric debut novel lags, giving over too much narrative space to Cora’s adultish ruminations about trees in honor of her father, who was a professional gardener. As a result, not much happens in terms of plot until Adare goes missing for a few hours when Cora claims a little alone time. The issue of Mom’s leaning too much on Cora is not fully resolved, however, and the sympathy generated for the family’s homelessness and Adare’s neurodiversity may well be overshadowed by righteous anger at their mother’s choices. Cora’s empathy for her sister, on the other hand, does grow throughout the novel, offering middle-graders food for thought on how to see through the eyes of those whose communication skills prevent them from expressing their needs.