Welcome to my blog. I often think I was born with a book in my hand. I have always enjoyed reading, but more importantly, talking about books. This blog is partially about reviews, but is really a forum to talk about what I'm reading, and express all of the thoughts and feelings that there simply isn't room for in a professional review. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on your favourite books as you follow my reading journey.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Middle Grade Monday: A Tinfoil Sky

12-year-old Melody knows what it's like to live rough. For as long as she can remember, she and her mother Cecily have moved from place-to-place, searching for a place to call home. When Cecily gets arrested and sentenced to a month in jail, Mel is sent to live with her grandmother. Although everything is not working out as she'd hoped, the arrangement does allow Mel to find out more about her mother's past, and to gain an understanding of herself and the kind of person that she wants to be.

Cyndi Sand-Eveland's follow-up to Dear Toni, offers readers a gritty and realistic look at what it's like for children without a place to call home.

I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. All the reviews talk about how it's a gritty look at homelessness, which it is, but I don't really see that as being the main theme of this novel. Yes Mel and Cecily have lived under bridges and in their car, but it's less about being homeless than the need and desire to have a home.

Mel's mom Cecily is a mess.  She's immature, irresponsible, and selfish. Her drinking and shoplifting are out of control, and goes from one deadbeat guy to another. She tries to take care of Mel, but she can barely take care of herself, and Mel is often forced to be the adult in their relationship. Mel doesn't approve of her mother, but she loves her, and Cecily loves her. Possibly the single mature decision that Cecily makes is knowing that she is not what's best for Mel, regardless of how hard it is to leave her.

When Cecily announces that they are going back home to live with Mel's grandmother, Mel imagines a loving and nurturing woman whom she can call grandmother, and who will welcome them with open arms. What she doesn't expect is that her grandmother won't even open the door, and that she and Cecily end up once again with no money and nowhere to go.

Mel is a wonderful character. She's world weary, yet vulnerable.  Her life isn't easy, but as we see when she's forced to spend a rainy night hungry and alone in her mother's car, we realize just how young she actually is.

Things seem to go from bad to worse when Cecily is thrown in jail for 30 days, and she's forced to live with her grandmother. She wants to believe that she's important like the judge said, but her grandmother treats her like an unwanted burden. My heart completely broke for Mel the first morning when she's locked out of the apartment because her grandmother is afraid she'll steal her stuff.

Mel finds solace at the town library, and I love that books play such an important role in transforming this girl. Wherever she's gone and whatever she does, she always takes solace in reading. In fact, books are so important, that when the judge asks Mel if there is anything she needs, she shocks everybody by asking for a library card. As the month ticks by, Mel starts putting down roots. She finds a sense of belonging, makes a friend, and even finds a part-time job reading to kids at the library once-a-week. In the back of her mind she knows there's a chance her mother will want to leave, but she desperately wants to believe that they will stay.

I also really liked the way that the relationship between Mel and her grandmother transforms. At first, she can only see Mel as an extension of Cecily- a person who has betrayed her trust and devastated her before. She's understandably not eager to open up her home or her heart, and Mel, feeling rejected and unwanted responds in kind.  Without even realizing it, they start to care about each other, and the house key is a subtle but important representation of the bond that grows between them.

A Tinfoil Sky is a novel about growing up, about finding your place, and about having the maturity to choose what kind of life you want to live, as Mel does at the end of the book. It is a beautifully and sensitively written book, and one which will give readers a lot to think about and discuss.