Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff

What a great middle grade novel!  Lisa Graff really “gets” middle graders and I can not wait to add Umbrella Summer to my classroom library.  It’s perfect for fans of realistic fiction who also want a little more meat to their stories.

Annie is very careful. Most people would say she is too careful. She wears a helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, and more to ride her bicycle. She takes vitamins every morning. She reads about every disease you can imagine and checks herself for symptoms. Her parents worry about her and try to force her to stop being so paranoid. Annie doesn’t understand why they aren’t as careful as she is. No on worried about her big brother Jared, and he died. What seemed to be a simple hockey injury killed him because no one knew he had a heart defect. So she knows there is no such thing as being too careful, even if it means she has to give up some of her favorite things.

Umbrella Summer is a quick read. I picked it up planning to read only first chapter or so and ended up reading the entire book in one sitting. At the end, I didn’t know whether I wanted to laugh or cry. I was so proud of Annie at the end that I just wanted to hug her. Lisa Graff makes you feel like her characters are right there with you and I felt like I almost could reach over and squeeze Annie’s hand. I also loved the interaction between all the characters in the book. Annie’s parents are so wrapped up in their own grief that they try to hide their feelings from her, thinking they are protecting her. She also has a strong connection with her brother’s best friend. Finally, her own friends (even those she might not consider friends yet) are pushing her out of her shell in their own ways. All of the relationships felt real and true.

Despite the fact that story is propelled by the death of Annie’s brother, it’s not a story about death. It is a light story and one that I think many tweens will relate to. I know many worriers myself and though their reasons may be different than Annie’s, they will identify with her. Lisa Graff shares a powerful message with Umbrella Summer but doesn’t force it down the reader’s throat. This is a perfect book for tweens and I can’t wait to booktalk it when we get back from spring break.

*Copy purchased from Scholastic Book Clubs