Lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it? After a terrible year, Madalyn needs clear skies desperately. Moving in with her great-uncle, Papa Lobo, and switching to a new school is just the first step.
It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, though. Madalyn discovers she’s the only Black girl in her class, and while most of her classmates are friendly, assumptions lead to some serious storms.
Papa Lobo’s long-running feud with neighbor Mrs. Baylor brings wild weather of its own, and Madalyn wonders just how far things will go. But when fire threatens the community, Madalyn discovers that truly being neighborly means more than just staying on your side of the street— it means weathering tough conversations—and finding that together a family can pull through anything.
The end of summer is a time filled with transitions, especially for kids and teens who are returning back to school. For Madalyn, a Black seventh grade girl, there are even more transitions, as she moves in with her great-uncle, Papa Lobo, as her parents who are geographically separated are doing their best to provide for their family. She starts at a new school where she is the only Black student in her class, has to become reacquainted with Papa Lobo and his neighbors, and fears the wildfires that threaten the landscape of the Pacific Northwest yearly.
These themes and the five reasons below make Partly Cloudy, by Tanita S. Davis, the perfect contemporary middle grade novel for this time of year.
1. Explores how microaggressions can show up in middle school classrooms
Madalyn starts to get along with a few other girls in her class almost immediately on the first day of school. Unfortunately one of these girls, who is White, speaks and acts in a microaggressive way towards Madalyn because of a previous experience she had with another Black student. Madalyn becomes uncomfortable and unsure of whether she wants to remain friends with the girl, and whether she wants to say anything to her, and if so, how. This part of her story highlights how difficult and isolating being the only Black student can be, and how to begin these conversations.
2. We see how Madalyn traverses the effects of her parents’ career challenges
Madalyn’s family dynamics are not uncommon in the Bay Area of California, where the cost of living is one of the highest in the world, and there is immense pressure on families to have two working parents at all times and for students to get into competitive colleges even from a young age. Her mom begins working extra shifts and her dad got a job on the East coast after months of unemployment.
3. Explores climate change and its impact on people
Another issue specific to the Pacific Northwest is the now yearly fire season which occurs near the end of summer to early fall. Climate change has made this time of year extremely harrowing for many families in the PNW, with people needing to evacuate and potentially losing their homes. The uncertainty and powerlessness brings folks in the communities together and people of all ages have to decide on their priorities and how much they can rely on each other in times of emergency.
4. The long-standing prejudices of older adults in Papa Lobo’s neighborhood affect Madalyn as well
This generation of adults has fallen into habits that have been repeated for years, and some hold grudges against one another, all of which seem very important to them. There is some discussion about Papa Lobo being a Black man in the neighborhood, and how his neighbor’s ingrained prejudices have turned into relationship dynamic patterns that have sustained. It was interesting to see how Madalyn began to forge relationships with some of Papa Lobo’s neighbors throughout the book.
5. If you like slice of life books and shows, Partly Cloudy is for you
Although there is not one central unifying plot line, we get to see a certain time period in Madalyn’s life that is full of change and unpredictability. I adore slice of life stories, so this was a great book for a quiet weekend afternoon that I read while my kiddo napped.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: Madalyn, a Black seventh grade girl, moves in with her great-uncle Papa Lobo after an awful sixth-grade year, and confronts microaggressions from a friend, PNW wildfires, and curmudgeonly neighborhood dynamics.
Perfect for: Middle-grade readers who enjoy slice of life contemporary novels
Genre: Middle grade contemporary
Trigger/content warning: Wildfires, racial microaggressions, mentions of past bullying