Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dear Blue Sky, by Mary Sullivan (ages 9 - 12)

Some times when I finish a book, I feel like I've been on a journey with the characters. Just today, when I finished Dear Blue Sky by Mary Sullivan, I felt like I'd traveled with Cassie through a hard period in her life - and felt what it was like to come out okay. Not perfect, but knowing that I could be strong enough to keep going. I'm definitely looking forward to sharing Dear Blue Sky with my students this fall.
Dear Blue Sky
by Mary Sullivan
NY: Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2012
ages 9 - 12
available at your local library and on Amazon
You never really understand how much you need someone until they're gone. That's what Cassie realizes when her older brother Sef leaves for Iraq to serve in the Marines.
"I didn't even realize how much Sef held us together until he was gone. He was the only one who could make Van smile. He was Jack's hero and Dad's best budy. He was the only one Mom listened to when she'd had too much to drink. And me, I was myself with Sef."
When Sef does leave, Cassie's whole family has to figure out how they'll cope. Sullivan paints a complex portrait of this family in crisis. Tweens will appreciate the way she dives into the difficulties Cassie faces, protecting her little brother, connecting to her older sister and insisting that their mother come out of her grief to notice the children she still had at home. Sullivan doesn't shy away from tough issues.

Cassie wrestles with more than just coping with her brother's absence; she grapples with understanding the war in Iraq. When her history teacher asks all of the students to find a blog written by someone in a different country, Cassie discovers a blog called Blue Sky, written by an Iraqi girl who's her age. Through her growing friendship with Blue Sky, Cassie starts to understand different sides of the Iraq War, how it's affecting Blue Sky's family and life, tearing apart her city, terrorizing her family, limiting her daily life. Here is part of an email Blue Sky wrote to Cassie, explaining her blog's name:
"The day America started bombing Baghdad was the day the sky turned gray. The electricity go out for hours at a time and all is dark much of a day. The explosions and helicopters are more loud in the dark. When I remember old Iraq I think of light and blue sky, the color it used to be. So you understand my name now.

In my past I went to school and parties and swimming. I do nothing now and I am tired. What I want? I want my family to live. I try to have hope but it is difficult. I wish to have my spirit back. I wish to be a bird and fly high away. Except the sky is full with smoke and bombs."
I was particularly impressed with how Sullivan raises these complex issues in a way that tweens will understand - personalizing the impact of the suffering caused by the Iraq War, focusing in on family and friendship dynamics, looking closely at the impact of assumptions and isolation. At the end, I felt like I had truly been on a journey with Cassie, growing with her in my understanding and compassion. Through it all, Cassie becomes closer with both her sister Van and her friends, but she also becomes stronger and more centered in who she really is.

I especially liked this review of Dear Blue Sky from Leah Cohen, the author of The Grief of Others (quoted on Mary Sullivan's website):
"Mary Sullivan takes complex subjects—war, loyalty, bullying, friendship—and honors their complexity in lucid, fast-paced, effortless-seeming prose. Her young narrator, Cass, comes to understand that love is not easy, nor, in itself, is it enough to set the world right. But she also learns that love is often closer than it seems, and that the ability to recognize its presence is a vital gift. Full of questions and full of warmth, Dear Blue Sky allows readers to engage with big ideas in a wonderfully accessible way; even more generous, it allows us to think for ourselves." 
For other reviews, check out the New York Times review and Kirkus Reviews. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. Seems like a beautiful story. And your review got me piqued beyond means.

  2. Thanks so much for linking up to The Children's Bookshelf. I saw this book on the new bookshelf of the library last week and was curious about it. It sounds like a good book. I hope to see you again next week.