Cora's mother has struggled to keep a roof over Cora and her sister Adare's head ever since the death of their father six years ago. This can be a challenge in New York City, even though the mother has given up her artwork and is working in a store. Cora does fairly well in school, although has been moved around so much that she struggles to make friends. Adare had a lack of oxygen at birth and has a host of unspecified challenges, mainly characterized by not focusing on the present, and occasionally holding her breath. When their last shelter is broken into, the family moves in with Willa, who is from the same town in Texas as their mother, but doesn't exactly approve of her choices. Cora finds the nice apartment, and taking the subway, to be interesting, and she is open to making some friends. Sabina is friendly, and lived near the shelter, so she seems safe. It turns out that her family is also a little unusual, and they live in a boat on the canal. Cora is very interested in trees, since her father worked in the parks and left her a notebook of his sketches and information about trees. When she finds the particular "tree of heaven" that he was studying, she wants to climb it to feel closer to him. Things with Adare get out of hand, however, and when she goes missing, Cora must come to terms with her past and present and find a way forward.
Strengths: The author MUST be drawing comparisons with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, with the poverty and instability, the beloved father, and the "tree of heaven". There need to be more books about students who are not comfortably middle class, so that readers can either see themselves or understand others a bit more. Cora's experiences are realistically and sympathetically done, and the book is short and moves quickly, which is never a bad thing in a middle grade novel! Weaknesses: It seemed odd that Adare, at age ten, would not have been identified with a particular condition, even with the family's instability. Also, the grieving for the father takes up more of the book than I would like. What I really think: There is a delicate balance of things my readers like in a sad book. They like lots of descriptions of what life is like, but they are not as fond of the character's introspection about their situation, if that makes sense. (I spend a large part of my day involved in the nuances of what students want in a book!) My students would probably like this more if less of the plot were taken up with thoughts of the father and more details were given about the difficulties that Adare faces. I will probably purchase it, and this is certainly a great book to look at for most collections.
240 pages 978-1524720087 Ages 10-14
Recommended by: Karen Yingling, Library Media Specialist, Ohio USA
See more of her reviews: msyinglingreads.blogspot.com
Can you still have a home if you don't have a house? In the spirit of The Truth About Jellyfish and Fish in a Tree comes a stunning debut about a family struggling to find something lasting when everything feels so fleeting.
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.
Just Under the Clouds will take root in your heart and blossom long after you've turned the last page.--from the publisher