Sunday, December 5, 2021

Partly Cloudy by Tanita S. Davis

Sixth grade was a pretty stormy year for Madalyn Thomas - her dog Lucy died, her best friend moved away, she found out she was lactose intolerant and, as it things couldn't be worse, her dad was laid off from his job. That meant moving and changing schools and Robinson Howard Middle School was a pretty grim place in which to learn, especially after the shooting that happened there. Now, her mom tells her that "Skies are clearing.... Your dad and I have a plan," which can only mean more changes in Madalyn's life.

Her dad will be working across the country in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and her mom, as social worker, works long hours, so the plan is for Madalyn to live with her great uncle Papa Lobo four days a week and come home on the weekend. While this may not be the ideal situation Madalyn would like, the one advantage is that Kingsbridge Junior High is a more promising school that her old school and there's a great library in town.  

It doesn't take long for Madalyn and Papa Lobo to develop a comfortable routine, and except for Jean Duval, Papa Lobo's godson who helps him around the house, things would be pretty good. But Jean, who goes to the same school but in a higher grade, seems to only tolerate Madalyn. She also meets neighbor Mrs. Baylor, a older white woman with a cat and a beautiful garden, but also an on-going-long-running feud with Papa Lobo.

When school begins, Madalyn realizes she isn't just the new kid, she's also the only Black kid in her seventh grade class. First day, first class Madalyn meet Natalie, who seems like a fun, potential friend. It's Natalie who warns her about Carlin and Sydney, the class snobs/mean girls. Sure enough, it doesn't take long for the first microagression when Carlin says to Madalyn "...You're Addy, like that American Girl doll, right?"

Natalie and Madalyn get along well in school, but when Natalie sees Madalyn with Jean, it becomes clear that something is wrong. It turns out that Natalie had an unfortunate bullying experience with a Black boy, and now says her older sister Annica, with whom she lives, demands she not have anything to do by Black boys in general. Madalyn is faced with a dilemma - to continue being friends with Natalie or not - but one thing she is sure of is that she will have to have a tough conversation with Natalie about race. Madalyn spends a lot of time agonizing over when and how to have this difficult conversation. 

When wild fires break out around their California area, Madalyn is worried about her mom, trying to drive from home to be with her but not answering her phone. Then, Natalie calls, home alone and frightened because she can't get her sister on the phone. Papa Lobo insists they pick up Natalie and bring her to his house, leaving a note for Annica with the address, even though Madalyn is still mad at her. A little later, Mrs. Baylor collapses in her garden. She has difficulty breathing and Papa Lobo insists they bring her to his house. 

Partly Cloudy is an interesting novel with a lesson for all readers. It is essentially a slice-of-life story but by putting Madalyn in a basically white school, Davis really highlights the kind of covert and overt prejudice and the regular microaggressions that a person of color experiences on a regular basis. but that a white person seems totally oblivious to. For Natalie, it means seeing people as indivisibles and not stereotypes. For Madalyn, it's the opposite - learning the importance of standing up for herself and not letting other people define who she are based on their expectations or stereotypical ideas. 

Partly Cloudy explores themes of family, friendship, and race through the experience of a seventh grade Black girl living in the bay area in California. It is very much a story of today and one that many readers will relate to. I can't recommend it highly enough.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was gratefully received from Madison Ostrander formerly at Spark Point Studio
Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, 
now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle


  1. All those themes are poignant for all of us at any age. Love this review. Another MG title on my TBR list. Thank you, Alex.

  2. This looks like another one I'll definitely have to put on my list. Thanks for the review, Alex.

  3. Tanita always develops such interesting stories, and this took a turn I didn't see coming. I loved the setting of Papa Lobo's house-- I want that wallpaper, but maybe not the roosters. It's such fun when tiny details like that stick with me. Can't wait to have this one in my collection for students to check out. Thanks for a great review.

  4. Wow, this book deals with a lot of issues. I'd seen this cover and was curious about the story. I'm definitely adding it to my TBR list after reading your review. Thanks!

  5. I also enjoyed this story. The MC won me over as did the fact she was faced with a different place to live than her parents. This title should be popular with kids, parents, and teachers. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  6. I haven't had a chance to read this book, but the many important themes (particularly racism and microaggressions) make it sound like a fantastic read! (Also, if I'm not mistaken, the author of this book is a fellow judge in my category in the Cybils, which is quite neat as well!) Thanks so much for the thoughtful review, Alex!

  7. Wow. This book sounds great. I am putting it on my TBR list. Thanks for the review.

  8. Very relevant and important story. Really enjoyed your review! Thanks for such a great review!


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