I share a release day with the wonderful Hurricane Season (tomorrow!) so I’m writing my weekly To Be Read Tuesday review on Monday.
When I was ten I read Harriet the Spy, and all the Little Housebooks. I read The Hobbit for the first of what became 1,000 times. I read Professor Diggins Dragonsand, since it was 1983, I read Orwell’s 1984 so I’d be prepared for what was coming in the world.
These were all very good books and I loved them all in different ways. But what I needed was a book that spoke to my broken places.
There is a space inside some of us that’s a swirl of yearning, fear, distrust and anger. A vortex created when the cut-out for the word “family” has been inadequately filled. We hold a very small candle of hope inside what seems a very large darkness.
For many of us, too, there is another hollow in our chest carved by the word “queer.”
This book take hold of both of these fragile childhood spaces. Simply put, this is a book I needed as a child, and the fact that it exists for my own children gives me hope for the world.
I read and write middle grade fiction because the liminal space between child and teen is precarious, and it’s easy to feel alone and overwhelmed. Literature, for me anyway, has always been the hand pulling me back from the ledge. What started as an escape from a sad childhood turned into a way for me to understand myself and my family as I grew old enough to find books that provided glimpses into other people’s pain.
As a writer, I read to get better at the craft, and since my education is in creative nonfiction, I scour Net Galley for middle grade novels to show me how it can be done. As a mother, I read for my own eleven-year-old, who exists in that liminal space right now.
This debut novel—about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about growing up and coming out—will make its way straight into your heart.
Fig, a sixth grader, wants more than anything to see the world as her father does. The once-renowned pianist, who hasn’t composed a song in years and has unpredictable good and bad days, is something of a mystery to Fig. Though she’s a science and math nerd, she tries taking an art class just to be closer to him, to experience life the way an artist does. But then Fig’s dad shows up at school, disoriented and desperately searching for Fig. Not only has the class not brought Fig closer to understanding him, it has brought social services to their door.
Diving into books about Van Gogh to understand the madness of artists, calling on her best friend for advice, and turning to a new neighbor for support, Fig continues to try everything she can think of to understand her father, to save him from himself, and to find space in her life to discover who she is even as the walls are falling down around her.
Nicole Melleby’s Hurricane Season is a stunning novel about a girl struggling to be a kid as pressing adult concerns weigh on her. It’s also about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about coming of age and coming out. And more than anything else, it is a story of the healing power of love—and the limits of that power. (Goodreads)
When I finished this book I had tears rolling down my face. It is so wonderful. As a child, I grew up with a bipolar lesbian mother. I can’t imagine what it would have meant for me to have had this book when I was actually in middle school.
I have to admit that at first I read it somewhat suspiciously, or perhaps protectively, due to my family history. So many people try to write books for children and just make a mess of it, but Melleby's debut novel is stunning.
Written in close third person, we are brought into the world of Finola, called Fig, and her father. Her mother walked out when she was a newborn, and her father slowly descended into mental illness. Fig struggles to keep him together and protect him from the world, yet when a neighbor steps in to help, she has a hard time trusting him. When her father and the neighbor fall in love, it becomes more complicated for Fig as she has to contend with giving up her role as her father's protector and trusting someone new in her life. As the same time, she walks in the middle school world of crushes of her own.
This is a book to treasure. Melleby has captured the frustrations, fear, anger, and yearning of a child with a mentally ill parent. Her queer characters are fully formed, believable, and written with a loving pen. I love that queerness was a side plot that didn't hijack the story. (I don't object to coming out stories, but I also appreciate books like this—books that show people who happen to like people of their own gender and are dealing with other life problems.
Thanks Net Galley for a digital copy in exchange for an honest review.
Copyright © 2023 Lara Lillibridge
Public domain imagery courtesy of Snappygoat.com