Summer has just begun in the small island community Clara lives in. While more relaxed days of games with friends and juicy stolen mangos lie ahead, it seems as though Clara’s 12-year-old life is about to take a turn. A new girl is arriving and is bringing with her all the color and spunk of the city to their humble island town. The prospect of having a new friend should be exciting for Clara, but she can’t help but feel different these days—she’s not getting along with her bestfriend Gaynah anymore, and she still can’t remember what happened last summer after a hurricane hit the town. It seems as though she isn’t the only one feeling unsettled either as the entire island grapples with its own unresolved secrets as well.
It takes a village
The island is Clara’s entire world—its sloping landscape dotted with trees of leaves in different shapes and sizes, the endless sea and its crashing waves, the noisy dinners in their home where everyone from the town celebrates the settling down of each day. Their community is a small one where everyone knows everyone and everything that happens. It is comforting, but also suffocating at times as Clara can’t seem to catch a break.
While I do wish the characters were fleshed out a bit more (their development towards the end felt a little rushed and some characters could have been further explored), the book feels whole and satisfying to read with the plot and setting driving things forward. The island town illustrated for us is at the center of the story with all its people, secrets, and scenery. As the story unfolds, each of these begins to unravel, showing us what living together in a community looks like—harmony, harm, and all.
Also: that twist!
Waves, woes, and mangos
The book is a brave middle grade contemporary novel that tackles a whole host of topics. It’s a story of friendship, not just the heartwarming kind, but also the annoying I-hate-you kind that is undeniably part of being friends with someone. It’s a story about family, community, and the ways we try to be with each other and be there for each other. It’s a story about grief and guilt too (which was surprising for me to find in a book aimed at young kids) and the ways we try to deal with the heavy weight of regret.
And at the center of it all is Clara, a girl who’s still figuring out her place in her family, her town, and in herself too. She is both afraid and angry (of and at a lot of things). She is fast and adventurous, but often quiet and withdrawn too. There are days when she dares to live and act boldly, and other days where all she wants is to run away. It is Clara’s voice that rings loud and clear in the novel, and one that young kids may find their own voices in too.