June 21, 2019
For the love of teaching, middle-grade literature, and poignant stories…..
The Secret of Clouds by Alyson Richman
Genre/Categories: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
Yuri, a sixth grader, has a life-threatening heart condition likely caused by his mother’s exposure to radiation in the Cherynobol incident in the Ukraine, SSR. Because of his poor health and fear of infection, he cannot attend school. Maggie, a compassionate, creative, and innovative teacher, agrees to tutor him in his home twice a week. This is the story of the connection they form and what they learn from each other. The story also explores Yuri’s parents’ early life and background.
Genre: The genre is difficult to nail down because The Secret of Clouds includes a bit of historical fiction (Chernobyl), a little romance (although this is not the primary focus of the story), an interfaith relationship (Jewish/Christian), some women’s fiction elements, and a great deal of inspiration. It’s an intriguing mix of genres/subgenres.
Teaching: At the heart of this inspiring story is a heartfelt teacher-student relationship, a love of literature, and a teacher’s heart for reaching every child. I taught upper elementary for 17 years and I connect with this story on many levels, especially using literature to build compassion and inspire students. I think this story is a bit idealistic because a teacher is responsible for more instruction than was presented here. In the era of high stakes testing, teachers can’t solely read great literature simply for the purpose of enjoyment and great discussions or assign reflective journal type writing every day. Teachers are responsible for helping students write a variety of structured essays including expository, narrative, informative, persuasive, etc. Through fiction reading, we teach symbolism, figurative language, story elements, point of view, character motivation, theme, etc. Even though the story presents an idealistic picture of classroom instruction, the teacher/student relationship in the story will resonate in many ways with readers who are caring teachers. Maggie is willing to think outside the box in meeting her students’ needs, provides relevant and challenging lessons, and cares about the whole child. In addition to her contracted responsibilities, she teaches compassion, inclusiveness, and kindness. I think teachers and teachers-at-heart will enjoy this story!
Overall: I love this gentle and bittersweet story. Many of the aspects of the story are predictable and there are no unexpected twists. The Secret of Clouds explores many types of relationships including teacher/student, parents/children, best friends, mother/child, parent/teacher, and romantic relationships. This is an easy reading story even though there is a dual timeline that provides background information about the parents. I don’t consider this a heavy read even though it has a sad element. The one aspect of the story I didn’t relate to, is the concept of the clouds as a place where families wait for each other and meet up after death. My personal belief of the afterlife doesn’t include cloud meetups, but this didn’t affect my overall rating of the story.
Themes: Thoughtful themes include faith, loss, teacher/student relationship, romance, friendship, students with special needs, the art of teaching, inspirational literature, etc.
Recommended: I highly recommend The Secret of Clouds for readers who are compassionate teachers, for fans of heartfelt, lovely, and inspirational stories, for those who are looking for a lighter women’s fiction read with some substantial and poignant themes, and for book clubs. If you read and loved The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman, I think it is a good indication you can trust this author to bring you an engaging and enjoyable story.
***trigger warning contains a spoiler***
trigger warnings for the death of a child with special needs
My Rating: 4 Stars
Meet the Author, Alyson Richman
Alyson Richman is the #1 internationally bestselling author of The Velvet Hours, The Garden of Letters, The Lost Wife, The Last Van Gogh, The Rhythm of Memory (previously published as Swedish Tango) and The Mask Carver’s Son. Her novels have been translated into twenty languages and “The Lost Wife” is in development to be a major motion picture.
Do you remember having a special relationship with a teacher?
What was your favorite read in elementary school? Was it a book you read as a class or a book you read on your own?
Happy Reading Book Buddies!
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A review of Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini coming soon!
My Spring TBR:
With this review, I have finished my Spring TBR! See updates here.
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