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Just Under the Clouds


Just Under the Clouds

In Melissa Sarno’s book, JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS, the main character, Cora, is a young girl who has much more to worry about than most of the peers at her school. After her father passed away, Cora, her mother and her sister, Adare, who has special needs, have not had a stable home. They’ve moved from “placement” to “placement,” which are really rundown apartments and homeless shelters with questionable safety. When her family ends up staying in her mom’s friend’s fancy apartment, Cora starts to see what it may be like to stay and have a home in a stable environment, but she also knows that at any moment their mom will make them pick up and leave.

As Cora struggles to take care of Adare, understand her homework and make friends at school, tension builds between her and her mother as she longs for a consistent home. The one constant in her life is her father’s “tree journal” that he left behind, which he used to map out the different trees in the surrounding areas and Cora has picked up where he has left off. The weight of Cora’s troubles in the story will encourage readers to have sympathy for other kids and people facing homelessness. UNDER THE CLOUDS demonstrates that anyone can suddenly find themselves unexpectedly in a similar situation.

"[JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS] has a very heartwarming message about understanding the struggle of others..."

The young characters’ individualities are brought out and expressed more heavily as they cope with their ill-fated fortune. Cora spends her time climbing trees even though some may say she is too old and keeping up with her father’s tree journal. She is able to make one friend in Sabine, who was homeschooled most of her life. Sabine likes to collect notes that she finds and lives in a houseboat that isn’t anchored down to any one place. The two girls have very different lives and yet find them similar enough to realize they have a lot of common thoughts.

Cora’s sister Adare’s special needs are never defined and is presented in a very positive light by the people who talk about her, which can be a rare thing to find in literature. Characters with special needs are often presented very negatively and as the central problem, but in UNDER THE CLOUDS, Cora and her mom both realize that Adare’s special needs allow her to face their situation more purely as she takes little adjustment no matter where they find themselves living.

This story is told in first person and as Cora has a very scientific mind, readers may get bored as she goes on to describe yet another tree. While the descriptions are usually meant to represent something and trees are a metaphor for staying in the same place, it slows down the pace of the narrative.

Also, while readers are routing for Cora to have a happy ending, everything wraps up a little too neat and quick. After a scare where Adare goes missing, Cora’s mom is somehow suddenly able to change her work schedule in order to match that of her two daughters, but one might wonder why she didn’t talk to her manager about matching her daughter’s schedules at the beginning if it was an option. Then the book skips to the family suddenly having their own apartment that they were dreaming about during the story, but there is little explanation as to how they were able to accomplish their goal.

However, despite the book’s shortcomings it has a very heartwarming message about understanding the struggle of others and how the ability to miss out on life’s basic needs can affect someone in more ways than one.

Reviewed by Angela Warsinske on June 27, 2018

Just Under the Clouds
by Melissa Sarno