Monday, February 25, 2019

The Secret of Clouds

Title:  The Secret of Clouds
Author:  Alyson Richman
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2019. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1984802623 / 978-1984802620

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "She walks the cobblestone streets, her lithe body moving quickly."

Favorite Quote:  "Deep down, I believed a story could change us, and that if we read it deeply enough, a good book could transform our souls."

Two women - a mother and a teacher. Two back stories of loss and love. One very sick child. These are the basics of The Secret of Clouds. The husbands in this book are in the background. Even the sick child is in the background. This is really the story of two women coming to terms with the losses in their lives.

Maggie's life:  Maggie is a dedicated and passionate teacher. She and her husband Bill have recently moved to Long Island to get away from city life. Maggie is asked to take on home tutoring for a young boy too ill to be around other children.

Katya's life:  Katya was a rising ballerina in Kiev. Because of changing conditions in Kiev, her husband Sasha convinces her to move to the United States. Sasha settles in to a new job. Katya feels alone and lonely. She has no career and no friends in her new home. Her life revolves around caring for her son. She adores him but also blames herself for his illness. Being the primary caretaker of a ill child further isolates her.

Yuri's life:  Yuri is an intelligent and articulate little boy. A rare heart condition means that he needs constant care and that he cannot be around other people for risk of infection. He hungers for connection and for a child's life.

The story:  Maggie is asked to home tutor Yuri. She agrees with trepidation for the situation brings out memories and emotions deeply embedded in her childhood. Nevertheless, she agrees. As you might suspect, this arrangement leaves all three of these individuals changed.

The book goes into the back stories for both Maggie and Katya. Yet, neither one feels fully developed or explained. The book also tells the story primarily from Maggie's perspective - her job, her anxiety at teaching an ill child, her childhood memories that feed that anxiety, and even her marriage.

As such, the balance of the story between Maggie and Katya is missing. Katya's trajectory from Kiev to Long Island, from a promising career to isolation, and from a joyful pregnancy to the reality that she might lose her child is by far the more interesting story. I wanted to know more of her perspective and her journey.

The emotion in this book should come from the fact of a very sick little boy and those who love him, an inherently tragic and emotional situation. Yet, the more memorable emotions of this book are the ones from Maggie's and Katya's past. It is these memories that impact their feelings towards Yuri, especially Maggie's. To some extent, Maggie's story seems to be not about Yuri at all; he is simply the catalyst for her reckoning. This focus lessens the impact of this book.

The impact of the book is also lessened by the ending. It is not really a surprise. Without a spoiler, I will say that the ending packages everything to a conclusion. Given the subject matter, it unfortunately feels like too simple a package. Real life is rarely that simple.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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