Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dear Blue Sky by Mary Sullivan

I have long been a secret fan of war books. Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried tops a long list of adult novels I have really appreciated and enjoyed reading. I have found a few teen novels that have really engaged me, but not a ton. Maybe it has to do with the voice of the character but for some reason, whether I am a girl or I have no experience with war or who knows, many of the y.a. books just haven't caught me. Dear Blue Sky is housed in the juvenile category of the library because the main character is a eighth-grade girl, and we all know that kids will read about characters older than they are but not younger so the juvie category makes sense, but this one caught me. In a good way. Well, not that war can be good in general terms but for me, the book really hooked me. Be warned though: the content is wicked intense and me, this is a keeper.

Cassie's older brother heads to Iraq to serve in the Army. The entire family reels with his absence, and the outer story of this book percolates around how they make it through those first few months of life with Sef at war. But the inner story centers on Cassie and how she is making it through. Like how does she continue to be the same big sister she was before Seb left and also take the important place that her big brother had with their youngest brother who has Down's syndrome and struggles mightily to live up to being the superhero of his brother? How does Cassie stay true to who she is when her friends and family members keep doing unusual things? What does Cassie need to do to keep uncovering who she is as a growing teen?

And then there's this small thing called the war, and Cassie's own judgment of "those people" who live in Iraq. The author, Mary Sullivan, brilliantly connects Cassie with an Iraqi teen who also struggles with the war's effects on her actual daily living. Blue Sky's reality: the war is outside (and sometimes INSIDE) her own increasingly blown-up home. The two communicate electronically for much of the book, and Blue Sky offers Cassie a completely different way to hold and consider the war. Life changing, view changing, and compassion opening, this book really names some of the great struggles we often have with war and don't take the time to uncover it all, much less deal with it.

I really loved this book. When an author writes in ways that I can naturally bridge into an unfamiliar  experience and then help me continue connecting with characters and the actions they take, I know I have a keeper. I will definitely recommend this book to others. In fact, I know of several past kindergartners who family members may still be in Iraq. I think this might open some conversations....thanks to Mary Sullivan for writing this important book.

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