Title: Hurricane Season
Author: Nicole Melleby
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: May 7, 2019
Page Length: 288
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Age Range: Middle Grade
Rep: Mental Health (Bipolar), LGBTQ+
Goodreads Synopsis: This debut novel—about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about growing up and coming out—will make its way straight into your heart.
Fig, a sixth grader, wants more than anything to see the world as her father does. The once-renowned pianist, who hasn’t composed a song in years and has unpredictable good and bad days, is something of a mystery to Fig. Though she’s a science and math nerd, she tries taking an art class just to be closer to him, to experience life the way an artist does. But then Fig’s dad shows up at school, disoriented and desperately searching for Fig. Not only has the class not brought Fig closer to understanding him, it has brought social services to their door.
Diving into books about Van Gogh to understand the madness of artists, calling on her best friend for advice, and turning to a new neighbor for support, Fig continues to try everything she can think of to understand her father, to save him from himself, and to find space in her life to discover who she is even as the walls are falling down around her.
Nicole Melleby’s Hurricane Season is a stunning novel about a girl struggling to be a kid as pressing adult concerns weigh on her. It’s also about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about coming of age and coming out. And more than anything else, it is a story of the healing power of love—and the limits of that power.
*This ARC was provided to me by the publisher, Algonquin Young Readers, in exchange for an honest review.
I really enjoyed this book. I feel it deals with important topics that could affect children of this age. The author shows more than tells the reader about the different affects a parent with a mental disorder could have on a child. It shows that a mental disorder affects more than just the person with the symptoms.
The topic in general is rather heavy – as anything with mental illness/disorder would be. I do not feel it would be too far above a child of this age (approx. 12+) could handle, especially if they are reading this to better understand someone in their own position. It shows that, even though the child is trying to protect his/her parent, that this should not be placed on his/her shoulders, that they should ask for help without feeling like he/she has betrayed the parent.
I felt that Fig was portrayed realistically. Although she does act older than her age, it is believable that she would. She has been forced to deal with adult situations, such as understanding bills and taking care of her father. She is fearful of Child Protective Services coming and taking her away from her father. Fig seems to have a clear understanding that her father’s actions are not his fault, he cannot help. This I found was a very mature understanding. I’m not sure if every child would have that understanding if they have never been to counselling – at least at that age. There were many moments in this book that made me wonder if Fig, herself, has a mental illness. Some automatic reactions she has in different situations made me believe that one was developing, although this may be due to my background (psychology major). I’m not sure if that was the author’s intent or just something I picked up on.
We see Fig’s father at different stages in his illness. He can sometimes be manic, other times depressive, and at other points obsessive. He also seems to have difficulties in crowds. I liked the fact that the author wrote him in so many different stages and had the story span a few months. It allowed us to experience Fig’s life as it happened, as oppose to the author simply telling us how the father reacts at different times. The reason for the title, Hurricane Season, is not only because that is when we join Fig and her story, but also because that seems to be the time period that Fig’s father is at his worse. He seems to have more episodes (or at least we are lead to believe this) and he tends to focus on storms, specifically hurricanes.
~ Contain Spoilers ~
Next, I want to talk about the LGBTQ+ representation in this book. At no point did the author specifically label anyone’s sexual preference. At one point in the story, we find Fig having a crush and it is explored with her father. She herself states that she is not sure if she prefers one gender over the other, just that she has a crush.
We have further representation because later in the book, we find that the neighbour, who is introduced fairly early on in the book, and the father start having a relationship. Again, the author never specifically labelled either of the men; however, both have previously had wives, and loved them, so it could be assumed that they could be bisexual or pansexual. I felt this was a good introduction to LGBTQ+ for children of this age. This shows them that some people question their sexuality at this age, but they don’t have to feel they need to label themselves. During the conversation between Fig and her father, he specifically says it is ok that she isn’t exactly sure. I felt that was a good message.
~ End of Spoilers ~
There are lots of introductions to art and music throughout this book. The main focus being Vincent Van Gogh. Fig does not understand art, but sees it as a direct link to her father. She wants to understand her father better and believes that, if she can understand art, she will have a connection to him. During some research, Fig find parallel examples between her father and Van Gogh to the point where it starts to upset her. She directly links herself to Van Gogh’s brother as well, believing that she is there to help her father, just like how Van Gogh’s brother did. There are elements within this book that would help readers learn a little about Van Gogh, if they don’t already have some knowledge of him. It would have been nice/interesting, to include some of his pictures in the book themselves. That way readers can become familiar with some of his work (although most are likely to know Starry Night without realizing it).
Fig is extremely protective of her father and does not like (or want) outside help; however, she ends up being forced to ask for help from the neighbour. When we are introduced to the neighbour, like Fig, you can’t help but be skeptical of him. Fig has a hard time trusting him, like any other adult. Overall, I found him rather nice and understanding of the entire situation – I would love to have him by my side in a similar situation (oh who am I kidding he’d be a great neighbour no matter what).
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and even got a little teary eyed. I felt the author wrote the characters well and provided nice representation. At no point did anything feel unrealistic. I would highly recommend this.