Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for an early review copy of Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno, which will publish June 5, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.

#young readers (ages 8-12)
Writing: 4.5 Characters: 5 Plot: 4.5

This is one of those books that opens your eyes to a completely fresh perspective. Cora is a 12-year-old girl who is technically homeless.  Along with her mother and sister, she moves from placement to placement in South Brooklyn.  Some placements are better than others, and some almost begin to feel like home, but all are temporary and none is truly theirs.  They began this sojourn 6 years before when her father died suddenly of a too large heart.

Cora is a budding naturalist.  She carefully documents all the plants and trees she finds in each of the places they live, keeping note in her father’s field journal which she calls her “Tree Book.”  Through her observations and records, we are exposed to aspects of nature that I wouldn’t have known existed in these urban settings.  Frankly, I had never heard of the Red Hook and Gowanus sections of Brooklyn, and I was fascinated reading about them from within Cora’s story.

We also see a panoply of different people through her eyes: a new friend who lives on a houseboat and was home schooled for most of her life; an artist building a giant, slightly jagged, heart in an old warehouse; an old friend of her mother’s who lives a life of relative luxury near by; and her sister, Adare, who is “special.” Cora hates that word because “when it comes to Adare, nobody can get enough of the word special.” Adare was deprived of oxygen as a baby and is certainly different, but there is more to Adare than the label implies — she has a magical way of interacting with the world.

This is a real gem — one of the best young reader books I’ve read in a long time.  An honest and absorbing story about a young girl seeking to belong.  As a fun aside, in the acknowledgements, I found out that Sarno’s agent is none other than Rebecca Stead, one of my favorite children’s literature authors. An excellent recommendation!

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