Friday, November 5, 2021

Partly Cloudy - Tanita S. Davis

Summary:  Lightning couldn't strike twice, could it?

After a terrible year, Madalyn needs clear skies desperately.  Moving in with her great-uncle, Papa Lobo, and switching to a new school is just the first step. 

It's not all rainbows and sunshine, though.  Madalyn discovers she's the only Black girl in her class, and while most of her classmates are friendly, assumptions lead to some serious storms.

Papa Lobo's long-running feud with neighbor Mrs. Baylor brings wild weather of its own, and Madalyn wonders just how far things will go.  But when fires threaten the community, Madalyn discovers that being truly neighborly means more than just staying on your side of the street -- it means weathering tough conversations and finding that together a family can pull through anything.

Award-winning author Tanita S. Davis shows us that life isn't always clear, and that partly cloudy days still contain a bit of blue worth celebration. 

(Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com - This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

My Review: Partly Cloudy tells the story of a young girl named Madalyn, who is struggling to find healthy friendships in a new school, far away from familiar faces and the home she loves.   The author, Tanita S. Davis, uses Madalyn's story to teach a valuable lesson about life, family, friendship, and the importance of having hard conversations. 

After a truly awful 6th grade year, in which her dad lost his job, her best friend moved away, and her old school dealt with some security issues, Madalyn moves in with her great-uncle so that she can attend a better school.  She's a little nervous about her first day, so when she trips over the curb and falls in front of the entire school, Maddie wants to sink into the floor.  There aren't any kids who look like her in her new class and, though most of the kids are nice, a few girls say and do things that make her feel uncomfortable.  As the book continues, Madalyn realizes that one of her 'friends' has some troubling issues and must decide how to respond.  

Davis's writing hits dead center when it comes to portraying the ups and downs of adolescent female emotions.  Madalyn's feelings are complicated, and when upset, she tends to see the world through a very critical lens.  If you've ever read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, you'll know what I mean.  When she feels overwhelmed and confused, she often needs some time (and a little advice) before she can fully sort them out. 

Although Madalyn's parents are elsewhere for much of the book, they seem almost superhuman in their ability to connect with their daughter and help her navigate the murky waters of friendship and have tricky conversations. Much of the advice they give her could also be directed at the helping the reader have healthier relationships and harder conversations in their own life.

Some of my favorite advice dispensed: 

"Just walk in there being your own brilliant self and see what happens.  You don't have to be a reflection of anyone else's attitude -- be your own original work of art."

"If you couldn't say anything nice, you should at least say something true in the nicest way possible."

"Just listen to her when she wants to talk. She has to work out how she feels her own way.  You don't have to agree with what she says, but it sounds like the best way you can be a friend is to listen."

Partly Cloudy is primarily written for middle-grade readers -- tweens, if you will. As an adult, I experienced this book a bit differently than I imagine your average tween would.  I noticed the overall plot often plays second fiddle to the book's underlying message (which I'll get to in just a second), but the conversations surrounding that message felt manufactured, rather than a naturally-occurring extension of the story.  Luckily, I don't think middle-grade readers are likely to pick up on that issue.  Nor are they likely to mind writing that is slightly tailored to meet their reading level; in fact, they will probably prefer it.  

Now about that message.  Conversations about race can be uncomfortable.  It is hard to know when, where, and how to have them.  Partly Cloudy offers a youthful perspective to relevant conversations about kindness, communication, and race that we all need to be having.  Readers will learn from Madalyn's own experiences that seemingly innocuous questions can be hurtful, how to approach difficult conversations, and that friendships can evolve if we commit to listen and grow together.  Overall, I think that Partly Cloudy has the potential to generate a lot of worthwhile discussion amidst a certain set of readers and would be an interesting tween/midde-grade book club pick. 

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  No language or sexual situations.  Some intense moments surrounding wildfires.

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