I received this eARC via the publisher from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
All quotes are from the ARC and subject to change.
Author: Lynn Joseph
Publisher: Blouse & Skirt Books
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Twelve year-old Elizabeth is no normal girl. With an imagination that makes room for mermaids and magic in everyday life, she lives every moment to the fullest. Yet her joyful world crumbles around her when two planes bring down the Twin Towers and tear her family apart. Thousands of miles away, yet still touched by this tragedy, Elizabeth is swimming in a sea of loss. She finally finds hope when she meets her kindred spirit in 8 year-old Brandt and his 13 year-old brother, Jared.
Brandt and Jared, two boys as different as Oreo and milk and just as inseparable, arrive on the island to escape the mushroom of sorrow that bloomed above their lives in the wake of the tragedy. Elizabeth shows them a new way to look at the world and they help her to laugh again. But can Elizabeth and Brandt help their families see that when life brings showers of sadness, it’s okay to dance in the rain?
Set against the dazzling beauty of the Dominican Republic, Dancing in the Rain explores the impact of the tragic fall of the Twin Towers on two Caribbean families. It is a lyrical, well-crafted tale about finding joy in the face of loss.
“But is this story going to be a happy story or a sad one?”
I shake my head. “It’ll be happy and sad. It’s about everything.”
Dancing in the Rain by Lynn Joseph was so beautiful and nothing like I have ever read. It was an emotional rollercoaster and I was left with a sense that this book is important and something that everyone should read. I’m not one who normally picks up middle grade books, I have a hard time connecting with the story usually but I had no such problem with this one. While it is marketed as middle grade it’s one of those books that can honestly be enjoyed by all ages because it offers an incredible message about grief and the fact that no matter how bad life gets there is always joy on the other side of tragedy.
This book takes place right before 9/11, during, and directly after. It’s set in both New York City and the Dominican Republic. Our two main characters are both relatively young. We have Brandt who has just started second grade and he lives in the city with his mother and older brother and then we have Elizabeth who is twelve and lives in the Dominican Republic with her mother and aunt while her father works in New York City. They are both affected by the events of 9/11 in very different ways, which I won’t spoil, but it’s that tragedy that ultimately brings the two of them together.
It was different, good different, reading a book that was told through the eyes of someone so young. It reminded me of not only the openness and honesty of children but also their ability to understand so much more than most give them credit for. It also reminded me of the magic of childhood and the ingrained belief that everything is possible if you just hope.
“You still like him?” she asks, shocked. “Even though he yells at you for tapping your feet?”
I smile at this fierce girl. “My brother held my hand when The Towers fell down. He walked me home and didn’t tell me to be quiet. And when we had to come to this island to live with our granfather, my brother tickled me and told me everything would be okay.”
Brandt is such a unique little character and I loved him to bits. He had this air of being so wise beyond his years and was so open to love and hope and wishing. He completely embodied that innocence of childhood. He was probably the reason I connected to this story the most and that has a lot to do with the fact that I was the same exact age as him when 9/11 happened. I saw a lot of my younger self during that time reflected in him. I also loved his close relationship with his older brother. Like any siblings they fought but there was this camaraderie that was amazing to see. And although we really only get to see Jared through Brandt’s eyes I loved him too because through his own personal ups and downs he cares so much for his brother and mom. It was beautiful.
“He reminds me of Elizabeth, with her cheerful, hopeful face dreaming of crazy things like searching for mermaid tresure at the bottom of the sea. Robin Hood and Elizabeth are the same, both believing the best of everyone and never giving up.”
Elizabeth is the embodiment of creativity and imagination. She believes that mermaids truly exists and that the sea sings to her. She also has the wild and powerful determination, the kind that could eventually change the world. I loved her perseverance and the fact that she didn’t give up and that she was willing to do whatever was in her power to help put joy back into all of their lives.
Brandt and Elizabeth made an incredible team. The whole aspect of friendship in this book was something I enjoyed the most. These two main characters set out to heal their families and give them the ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Do they succeed? You’ll have to read to find out.
Lynn Joseph’s writing was so breathtaking. It wasn’t only the way she described the Dominican Republic, which by the way she made me want to hop on a plane with the beautiful picture she painted of that place. But the way she also described grief, hope, joy, love, and even anxiety and horror was awe inspiring. I felt everything she wrote so deeply.
I did have a few problems, however.
At times it felt as if the story was bordering on magical realism only to have those aspects never brought up again. There was this one scene where sometime after 9/11 Elizabeth wakes up from a nightmare with something in her hand that was in her dream that she couldn’t possibly have because she wasn’t there that day. It’s something that isn’t touched on again and that confused me as the synopsis doesn’t really point to magical realism.
Also, I felt like there was a bit of a hole in the story at the end because of the fact that Brandt and Elizabeth’s families were connected before the two met and it’s never brought up again after the beginning of the book. Elizabeth’s dad and Brandt’s mother were friends. It’s most likely because of the fact that this book is in the children’s point of views but I wish it had been brought up again. It made me wonder.
“I think about all of the tragedies that make our hearts hurt so much. That make us scared and sad and angry. But, still, there is joy. Because just look at us. Look at all of us.”
Either way, I completely fell in love with this book. The characters, the magical setting, and the message that I gleaned from it. It made me remember what it was like to be that young, yes, but it also reminded me that even though we go through terrible things in life we shouldn’t give up. Bad things happen, horrific things happen but if we can get past those things the ability to find joy in life is still there. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming and I highly recommend it!
Have you read Dancing in the Rain? What did you think of it? If not, do you want to read it?