Book Review: Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt – 3.5 stars – Available May 7th!

Shouting at the Rain is the story of twelve-year-old Delsie who lives on Cape Cod with her grandmother. Her grandmother and grandfather are the only family that Delsie can remember and her grandmother refuses to talk about her mother at all. The absence of a mother and father is beginning to trouble Delsie as she gets older and lately, she’s become obsessed with the idea that she wishes she had a ‘normal’ family.

Shouting at the Rain

On this particular summer, Delsie has been eagerly awaiting the return of her lifelong best friend, Brandy, to the Cape. When Brandy arrives, however, nothing seems quite the same. Brandy is more interested in being a teenager than being Delsie’s friend and Delsie begins to fear that Brandy has outgrown her. What’s worse, Brandy makes a new friend, Tressa, who seems to relish mocking everyone, especially Delsie. Between the developing questions about her mother and the changing situation with her friend, Delsie is left feeling incredibly off balance in her day-to-day life.

Luckily, Delsie has a strong support system in her neighbors and family friends and meets a new friend, Ronan, who has moved to the Cape to live with his dad for the first time. Ronan is dealing with his own pain and uncertainty and he and Delsie strike up an unlikely friendship that helps both of them learn about themselves and heal.

Hunt (who probably know from Fish in a Tree) builds a compelling cast of characters that readers of Shouting will fall in love with: between feisty Delsie, her game show-loving, adoring Grammy and tough but sweet Ronan…there are plenty of personalities to root for in this book. Hunt’s portrayals of Brandy and ‘mean girl’ Tressa are also spot-on…anyone who has ever felt the pain of being excluded and humiliated as a teenager will recognize the pain that Delsie feels. Watching her learn to accept the circumstances of her friendship with Brandy and stand up for and value herself is definitely worth the price of admission to this story for kids and adults alike.

Delsie’s neighbors, Esme, Henry, Ruby and Olive, are also incredibly endearing. They are exactly the supporting characters you would wish to have in your own life…they love and protect Delsie in a way that even she doesn’t quite understand. Without question, Hunt has created a family for Delsie to fill the void she feels in her mother’s absence. With the addition of Ronan, who would be the quintessential troublemaker except for the depth of his feelings and his ability to articulate them, Delsie is surrounded by the kind of care that most of only receive from our families of origin. If Hunt’s message is meant to be that ‘families aren’t born, they are chosen,’ she does a fantastic job of making her point through these characters.

While I am definitely an adult who loves Middle Grade fiction, I struggled a bit with the fact that this particular story seemed to have been ‘dumbed down’ for its intended audience. Much of Delsie’s internal and spoken dialogue is spelled out in a way that will allow her feelings to make sense to tweens but doesn’t seem to represent the way a 12-year-old would really think. “And you can’t really see wind. You can only see how it moves everything around it. And anger is like that, too.’ This is either an extremely profound teenager or Hunt has a message to deliver and is using Delsie as to evangelize that message in a way that comes off as slightly unnatural.

I was also confused by the inclusion of some of the characters and their associated plot points. Aimee and Michael (Delsie’s friends who are in a local theatrical production of Annie – which is used to highlight that Delsie, like Annie, is an orphan) don’t seem to have any real role in the story except perhaps as foils to Brandy and Tressa as ‘bad friends.’ Saucepan Lynn (proprietor of the local diner) is similarly inserted into the action without any purpose that I could discern. There’s also a story arc about a kitten and the pseudo-redemption of Tressa thread that felt particularly forced to me.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the core Delsie story and the authentic (non-touristy) Cape Code backdrop that Hunt so beautifully portrays, I distinctly felt that Shouting at the Rain was written for the 8-12 year old crowd. As it is marketed as a Middle Grade book, perhaps that is appropriate. I’ve fallen in love with several Middle Grade titles that appeal across the ages, however, so perhaps I’m spoiled and hoped that Shouting would be a book that I could read both for my son and for myself. While that wasn’t necessarily the case, given the strong characters and age-appropriate plot, I’m content to give this book a strong recommendation for tweens for whom it was intended. I feel certain that they will love it!

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