June 3, 2018

Review: Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno

Title: Just Under the Clouds
Author: Melissa Sarno
Copy Obtained: From publisher for an honest review

Always think in threes and you'll never fall, Cora's father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father's death, and Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who's just different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can't help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora's mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she has been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the "tree of heaven," which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

This is the second book about being homeless that I've read recently.  That book (Crenshaw) dealt more with a family that was on the verge of becoming homeless while this book focuses on a family that is already homeless.  Although being homeless is not the only thing this book looks at.  Cora is still dealing with the loss of her father, and she has her sister to worry about.  It's a lot for a young girl.  So when she's put in a situation where she can make a friend, she doesn't trust it.  I think that part of the book made me the saddest.  I've kids like that while teaching.  You can tell they've been bounced around so much that they don't even bother to try to connect to the people around them.  I wanted to tell Cora that it would be ok, and she could make a friend but honestly, with situation her family is in, it was clearly possible they would move again.  It saddened me.  

That said - I think this would be a good book for middle school students.  I live in an area with very little homelessness, at least in the traditional sense.  I believe we have homeless students at my school, but they don't live in a shelter or in their car.  They might live with others instead.  And that is what ends up happening in this book, so I think it would be a great example to show my students what homelessness can look like.  It doesn't mean you leave on the street.  There are other types.  And I think kids, where I live, need to see that and understand that.  I've always believed that books should show students what they know so they know they aren't alone BUT they should always show students what they don't know so they learn how to empathize.  Thankfully Cora is a great character that I think will really draw the reader in and allow this to happen. 

Final thoughts: Great story with strong characters that grow and change.  
Library thoughts: For sure I would put this in my library for the reasons I discussed above!  

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