Goodreads: Umbrella Summer
Ever since her brother Jared died from a rare heart condition, Annie Richards has been very careful. Skin cancer, gangrene, or Ebola–anything could get you. So she doesn’t ride her bike down the hill anymore, or race with her best friend Rebecca, or eat sugary cereal for breakfast. Can a chance meeting with a new neighbor help Annie to find a way to live again?
In Umbrella Summer, Lisa Graff sensitively explores the aftermath of the death of Annie’s eleven-year-old brother Jared. Though the adults around her keep telling her she’s fine, ten-year-old Annie can’t help but worry. They say that the chances of her getting skin cancer or other deadly diseases are slim. But Jared died from a heart condition so rare no one bothered to check for it. You have to be prepared, Annie thinks, because you never know.
I would say that this a lower middle-grade, so at times the writing and the story did feel a little simplistic to me. I had to fill in some of the emotions, especially those of the adults, because while Graff does depict the effects of Jared’s death on Annie’s family, much of what happens occurs without comment. Of course, this is partially because Annie narrates the story and she’s not very effective at articulating her own grief, and much less at understanding why her parents are behaving as they are. (She is, after all, only ten.) But it still feels like we’re offered only a glimpse of what is really happening, because if we looked at raw grief in its entirety, it might prove too overwhelming.
Still, this is an excellent story, one that has your heart reaching out to Annie as she tries to cope. It helps that Annie is not simply a victim. She is strong and smart and funny and, well, a kid who likes to do kid things like spy on the neighbors or make up silly songs. She’s a fun protagonist, one whose adventures you want to travel on even while you wish you could give her a hug and tell her it will be okay.