Book Title:
Just Under the Clouds
Book Author:
Melissa Sarno
Page Count:
Publishing Date:
June 5th, 2018
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Date Read:
September 28th, 2018
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review - Thank you!


Can you still have a home if you don't have a house?

Always think in threes and you'll never fall, Cora's father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father's death, and Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who's just different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can't help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora's mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she has been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the "tree of heaven," which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

My Review

Just Under the Clouds is a heartwarming and sweet middle grade novel that instills the message of home being wherever your family is. This is one of those books that I think would be amazing for all middle graders to read, because it’s such a relatable story that I think is easy to connect to, especially for people in that age range. I’m an adult and I found this book to be charming, and it completely found its way into my heart after only the first few chapters.

It can be really heartbreaking to find out what goes on in the lives of others, even if you think that they might have everything in the world. In this case, Just Under the Clouds talks about what it is like for a twelve year old Cora and her little sister, Adare, as well as their mother. There are so many things that the family is dealing with, and on top of all that, they realize that they can no longer stay in the small place that they had been living, and have to up and move. Again.

“I think maybe it is possible to love someone or something you can’t really ever get at. I think maybe it makes you love that someone or something even more.”

Cora, her younger sister Adare, and their mother are used to moving from place to place. Once Cora and Adare’s dad died, their mother could no longer afford the rent on their home on her income, and they are forced to move from one place to another – living in “placements,” such as apartments and shelters. The shelter they are currently living in has a creepy man who sits around, shady people staying there, and of course, it doesn’t feel safe. It feels even less safe when once Cora and Adare go back there, they find the place completely destroyed.

So Cora, Adare, and their mother pick up yet one more time, and go to stay at Cora’s mother’s friend Willa’s apartment. Willa is kind and caring, and for once the girls have a place where they can eat as much as they want, sleep without fear, and have a hot shower whenever they please.

During all of this, Cora is struggling at school, failing her math class and being taunted by a popular girl because of it. They are comparing her to Adare, who Cora has always been told by her mother is special, due to the fact that she doesn’t talk much and has developmental delays. Cora is also really missing her father – taking to mapping out more trees around the city, drawing them and writing about them in her father’s tree field guide that he used to use before he died. Now it is a part of Cora.

“‘Leaving a place is easy when you haven’t really left anything behind.'”

Since Cora is moving around a lot, she doesn’t have any friends, but then a girl starts to talk to her, and Cora and Sabina become friends, little by little. Cora isn’t sure how to be a friend, but she soon finds herself talking to Sabina and getting to know her more and more.

When a new placement opens up for Cora and her family, their mother uproots them from Willa’s and takes them there, causing Cora to be bitter toward her mother for taking away the only safety she has come to know. Cora begins acting out, including being late to pick up her sister from school. When Adare goes missing and they have to search together to find her, Cora learns the true meaning of what being home really means.

I don’t know what took me so long to read this book – I’ve had it sitting on my shelf for a few months, and the other day I decided that it was time to pick it up and read it. I was so happily surprised at how wonderful this book was, and I found myself reading through it rather quickly, because it was really engaging.

Cora’s character was such a wonderfully written one. As with so many middle grade books, there are tons of raw, real emotions going through her throughout the course of the novel. She had her ups and her downs, and she spoke about her feelings truthfully, making her the kind of character that you wish you knew personally.

The whole situation of Cora, her sister, and their mother being essentially homeless was really sad – especially after they lost Cora and Adare’s father, leaving the three of them to fend for themselves. Homelessness and poverty are major issues in this country, and this is the kind of book that really opens your eyes to what a child goes through when faced with these challenges.

I think this is the kind of book that would be really touching for middle graders, because it touched something in my heart and made me see a new side to homelessness, from the perspective of a child. I honestly have only read one or two books about homeless teens or children, but I think that by coming out with more novels about this, we can really bring awareness of the issue out in the open and have others become more familiar with what is going on.

This is one of the most heartwarming middle grade books that I have read in a while, and it has truly left an impression on me. The author has a wonderful story telling ability, and I think that Cora, her sister Adare, and their story will touch the hearts of those everywhere.

4 stars
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