Thursday, March 2, 2023

Today's read... Where the Water Takes Us by Alan Barillaro

I picked up today's read mostly because I was inspired by the title and cover...yep, I'm being superficial again. It's a meaningful, emotional read, and anyone, who follows me regularly, knows I'm a little cautious when diving into this genre. So, I'm living on the hope that this one will be everything I hope it will be and hit the perfect, middle grade heart-string. 

by Alan Barillaro
Candlewick Press
Middle Grade Contemporary
208 pages
ages 8 to 12

JUNE 4th!!!

Debut author Alan Barillaro delivers a stirring story about a sensitive, shaken young girl who must face that growing up means coming to terms with the things you cannot change—and taking responsibility for the things you can.

Ava’s mom is about to have twins, and the pregnancy isn’t going well. All Ava wants to do is stay by her mother’s side, but instead, she is sent away to stay with her grandparents. Normally, spending time at the lake with Nonna and Nonno is wonderful. But everything is different now. While her mom’s hospital visits are getting serious back home, Ava grapples with anxiety. As summer storms rock the island, electricity goes out at the cabin, and an annoyingly cheerful boy named Cody seems determined to pop up everywhere she goes. Ava can’t be distracted from the feeling that something terrible, something irrevocable, is going to happen to her mom while she is gone.

When a bird dies in front of her, Ava is sure it is a sign that she is cursed—the last thing she, or her family, needs. But if a curse has been placed on her, there must a way to break it. So Ava makes a deal: If she can take care of two orphaned bird eggs, she will have paid off her debt, and her family will be alright.

With everyone she loves on the line, Ava will do everything in her power to make sure that her mom, her twin baby brothers, her birds, and even Cody all come through the summer safely.



Ava's mother is pregnant with twins, but things aren't going well. After the doctor tells Ava and her family that she's a burden to the situation, she's sent to spend the summer with her grandparents on their island. There are many things to do and tons to explore, but the doctor's statement and her mother's health hang over Ava's head like a dark cloud. When a kayak mishap ends with Ava witnessing a small death, she's more than shaken, but a small wonder might just come out of it all.

First off, I absolutely adored the illustrations! While taking the usual format of a middle grade novel, beautiful illustrations done in watercolor are added as well. While full ones only happen every now and then, each page is underlined with a small scene fitting to the tale's plot at the time. This along deserves extra kudos and had me smiling!

This is a tale about learning to handle difficult situations, patience, reaching beyond comfort zones, and accepting the care others give around you. So, it's a book full of warming moments, hesitations, fears, and hope. The setting with Ava's grandparents on an island among in a fishing area with tourists gives the calm of water, nature, and freedom, which allow this tale to really unfold. Plus, the author centers the story around two baby birds, which mirrors Ava's own situations and acts as the driving factor which leads her through, but of course, not without hurdles.

The pacing flows along smoothly like paddling along on a lake. There are moments of tension to keep things interesting, but nothing which will be too much for more sensitive readers. The surrounding characters are caring, supportive, the case of Cody...sandpaper which needs smoothing. I adored Nonna and Nonno as they usually offered words of wisdom and gently steered Ava in the right direction. I was disappointed that the doctor told Ava she was a 'burden' in front of her (as a parent, I would have not found that okay), and was surprised at Nonna's own slip when she said that a bird in the house summoned a death (not exact words). But adults do say things they shouldn't in real life, too.

Ava did take some time to warm up to, though. In the first chapters, she allows her worries to act like a concrete wall, and while understandable, this does make it hard to sympathize with her for awhile. At times, she seemed a little immature for her age, but in general, she comes across well. When she meets Cody, his personality is almost humorous, but she melts to him as time goes on. From here, it nods at romance and first crushes, which did bother me a bit considering not only her age but the situation. While I know it's not strange, in the least, for kids this age to crush (or even younger), for some reason it felt like an unnecessary distraction from the other, larger problems. But that really might just be me. In any case, their friendship is golden and has a nice arc.

This is a well-written story, which flows along with heart and learning to deal threatening health issues in a family. It also teaches a bit about nature and bonuses with information on birds. For those who enjoy emotional reads of growth, it's a nice story.

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