Partly Cloudy by Tanita S. Davis. Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins, 2021. 9780062937001
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3
Format: ARC (publication date: 9/7/21)
Genre: Realistic fiction
What did you like about the book? Madalyn’s family emerges from a year of financial troubles as her dad finds a new job far from their home in Sacramento, California. After a scary incident at her school last year, her parents decide to send her to live with her great uncle, Papa Lobo, where she can start 7th grade in a nearby pretty and mostly white junior high; in fact, Maddy is the only Black girl in her class. Most of the book focuses on Maddy’s adaptation to her new life, with Mom (a social worker) able to visit only on the weekends. Maddy quickly makes several friends, although she also finds herself subject to microaggressions from classmates. Drama is supplied by rapidly spreading wildfires that endanger Maddy’s mom and the entire community, but eventually lead to reconciliation. I enjoyed getting to know Papa Lobo, a colorful character, with his poker buddies, old-fashioned house, and Creole-inflected expressions. Also, kudos for depicting Maddy’s time away from home with a relative, a common experience that’s not shown often enough in middle-grade fiction. Maddy and her relatives are Black, as is Papa Lobo’s 9th grade godson, Jean, who serves as a guide to Maddy in her new home. Other characters cue as White.
Anything you didn’t like about it? The book meandered. Several plot points disappeared without resolution, including 2 vaguely mean girls who Maddy’s new friends refer to as “vampires.” The arrival of the fire did offer some propulsive moments, but also rushed and simplified the conversations about racism. I was surprised that Maddy expressed zero trepidation about Dad’s relocation to the East Coast.
To whom would you recommend this book? Although Maddy is in 7th grade, her affect and coursework seem like they would be appropriate for a much younger child, so I might recommend this to readers in grades 3-5 who want a more grown-up protagonist. Its gentle idealization of a rural world with bike trips to buy ice cream and worries about grumpy neighbors would be appropriate for this age group.
Who should buy this book? Elementary schools, public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: August 29, 2021