Middle school classrooms (and even young high school) would be EXCELLENT, for a look at accessible youth activism, for a lot of fascinating learning about the bad AND the good of natural disasters, for two other “serious” storylines for the MCs that handle really difficult situations, for a book that has really mature students which was a breath of fresh air (having been one of those and not the partiers, it was nice to see a book acknowledge I existed as more than a lame side character foil of boringness)
Explosive volcanic eruptions are cool, really, cool. They inject ash into the stratosphere and deflect the sun’s rays. When eighth grader Jamie Fulton learns that snow fell in June in his hometown because of an eruption on the other side of the world, he’s psyched! He could have snowboarded if he’d lived back in 1815 during the year without a summer.
Clara Montalvo, who recently arrived at Jamie’s school after surviving Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, has a different take all this. She is astounded–and disturbed–by Jamie’s frenzied enthusiasm for what she considers an obvious disaster. The teens’ battling arguments cause science class disruption and create academic trouble: Jamie’s headed for a failing grade in science, and may not even graduate from eighth grade; Clara’s scholarship hopes are dashed.
And school isn’t the only place where Jamie and Clara are facing hardship: as they quarrel whether natural disasters can be beneficial, their home lives are also unraveling. Uncertainty about Jamie’s wounded brother returning from Afghanistan and Clara’s unreachable father back in Puerto Rico forces the two vulnerable teens to share their worries and sadness. As their focus shifts from natural disasters to personal calamities to man-made climate changes, the teens take surprising steps that astonish them. Ultimately, through hard work and growing empathy for each other, as well as for their classmates’ distress over the climate change affecting their lives, Jamie and Clara empower themselves and the people they touch.
If you don’t already know about the year without a summer where the entire world’s climate was drastically changed after a volcanic eruption, you’re in for a treat because this dives into a lot of it in a really accessible way. I had coincidentally just learned and read about it a bit before starting this book, so it was fun to see what new and familiar details there were about it. There were scientific descriptions of what happened, but at a fairly high level rather than the detail I’d read in the adult nonfiction book on the topic (makes sense).
My teacher side was going NUTS at how excellent this book would be for students. I intended to put this at the end of the review, but I’m just too excited to mention it. It’s a wonderful book for many reasons that I’ll get into, but seriously: get this book in schools. Science class, history class, social studies, activism clubs, English class…. EVERYWHERE! And what makes it truly special is having characters and story and emotion amidst all the “info” and teaching / learning moments.
Both Jamie and Clara have chapters of narration throughout the book and it’s pretty evenly split, which I appreciated. I was able to get to know both characters pretty well, and the compassion and maturity they had was a lovely change to most YA books with middle grade students. I know they exist, and it’s nice to see some in stories. Clara had so much compassion that it made me want to be more like her. And Jamie is a bit more impulsive, but he’s very self-aware and constantly reflecting to learn more about himself and those around him. There’s a little bit of a romance interest in the story, but there are more pressing matters in the story so it’s not a huge focus.
Climate change is pretty awful, and I don’t THINK that’s news to anyone. There was a point in this book after discussion of all the harmful global changes where I genuinely just had to put the book down for a day or two because it depressed the heck out of me. It does go beyond that though, and offers solutions for change in very practical ways. There’s hope in this book too, which is something that too many on the topic forget to offer. The whole premise of the “debate” on climate change that Clara and Jamie have shows Jamie focusing on the unexpected positives that can come from some disasters. Think of how after a forest burns down, the ash can help provide rich soil and minerals for the next growth. There were a lot of highlights like that.
Climate change is the obvious topic in this book, but PTSD and other trauma are addressed as well in Clara and Jamie’s individual stories. They were hard to read at times, genuinely, even as someone who (thankfully) has not experienced either of them myself. Jamie’s brother is a soldier, and Clara’s family lost their home in a hurricane; both deal with the stresses from those changes in their lives throughout the story, and it’s not all sugarcoated and happy. It feels very authentic.
Overall I just really enjoyed reading this (even the part where I had to take a break). It is really worth a read for anyone who might be interested in middle grade characters, climate change, and activism. It’s emotional though: fair warning!
Thank you to Grace Fell and SparkPoint Studio for a free advanced copy. This is my honest review!