Rating: 4 / 5
Alyson Richman’s The Secret of Clouds is the heart-wrenchingly introspective story of a young teacher’s love for a student with a heart defect and all that they teach each other.
Maggie is a sixth-grade English language arts teacher in Long Island. She loves her job and is anticipating the start of the new school year when her principal makes an odd request that she’s not sure about. He’s asked her to tutor a student at his home. Born with a heart defect, Yuri doesn’t have the stamina or the immune system to spend his days at school. Maggie agrees, but is reluctant because of past experiences with sick children.
Yuri and Maggie become fast friends, and she is so proud of the success she’s having at exciting him about reading and writing. Over the school year, he becomes exceedingly important to her, and she to him. While Yuri is gaining strength and confidence, Maggie is facing big decisions at home that may shake her personal life up. Yuri laments all the childhood pastimes he’s missing by being stuck at home, and Maggie makes it her personal mission to improve Yuri’s life. But Yuri’s heart has not healed and there is so much that could go wrong.
An enticing and touching story, The Secret of Clouds follows this unlikely pair as they grow and teach each other about life’s joys and its time limits. Both take leaps of faith to seize the day, inspired by one another to live life to its fullest.
Please take caution while reading The Secret of Clouds if any of the following topics may trigger you:
- Pregnancy / childbirth
- Death / dying
The Secret of Clouds is an immensely interesting novel; the story is exceptional and will hold your interest constantly. While Maggie and Yuri are the main characters, the perspective switches between Maggie in Long Island in 1999 and Katya and Sasha, Yuri’s parents, in Kiev, Ukraine in the ’80s. With each change of perspective comes valuable information about the lives of the characters, which greatly deepens the character development and plot depth.
Richman’s characters are easy to love. Maggie has such a wonderful heart and Yuri such enthusiasm and promise. Katya and Sasha are more complicated, but equally good-hearted, and Maggie’s parents and friends are wise and unflinchingly loyal. The plot needs not be cluttered by unlikable or extremely complex characters, and is carried instead simply by masterful storytelling. Simply following Maggie and Yuri through the school year and beyond is enough to excite and melt your heart.
Katya and Sasha’s backstory breaks up the main storyline and adds a much-needed layer of depth. Their origin includes falling in love, fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, passion, antisemitism, immigration to America, and much more. While they aren’t the stars of the show, their journey to becoming a family is integral to the overall story and very compelling.
The Secret of Clouds is quite uniquely written – while the story is generally serious, and at times grave, the writing errs on the side of casual and simplistic. Although a big more difficulty may have pushed me to five stars, this is an effortless read with great payoff. Richman tells a one-of-a-kind story that teaches us to cherish life in all its forms.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my thoughts on The Secret of Clouds! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the novel in the comments or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya.