December 03, 2012

A Tinfoil Sky

by Cyndi Sand-Eveland
Tundra Books
 978-1-77049-277-6
276 pp.
Ages 9-12
2012

"...everyone needs a little magic in their lives; it gives them hope." (pg. 201)

Melody Tully, twelve, needs a little magic in her life because hopefulness is definitely in shortage.  In the past four years, she and her mom Cecily have moved eleven times, and now Cecily has them running out on her drug dealer boyfriend Craig and dragging them to Cecily's mother's apartment.  But, even though Mel lived with her grandparents for the first four years of her life, Gladys doesn't welcome them into her apartment with its tinfoil-covered windows.  In fact, she yells at them through the door about Cecily's stealing, alcoholism and drug use.  So Cecily and Mel end up living out of their car, both singing on the street for money and visiting the soup kitchen.  When Cecily is arrested for shoplifting and sentenced to thirty days, Rose, a woman who works at the soup kitchen, helps find Mel and take her to stay at Gladys' until Cecily gets out.

Gladys is a bitter woman, rarely showing any kindness to Mel.  She even asks Mel to stay outside the apartment when she's not there, only giving Mel one key for her multi-locked door.  Mel just tries to stay out of Gladys' way, returning the key.  But Mel has no problems filling her days, spending hours at the public library and occasionally visiting with Ed Frohberger at his store to learn what she can of her late grandfather Tux.  But as she counts down the days until her mother's release from jail, Mel begins to establish her own life: visiting the library almost daily; making friends with the librarian Marilyn and Marilyn's son Paul; getting a part-time job at the library; talking to Mr. Frohberger; visiting the soup kitchen and Fearless, the kitten, who lives there; and enjoying the stability of her daily routines.  So, while Cecily enjoys change, Mel begins to appreciate the normalcy of her new situation, regardless of how temporary.

While Cecily seems to be the biggest impediment to their relationship with Gladys, without making any grandiose gestures, just trying to be inconspicuous and herself, Mel starts to see Gladys softening little by little.  The returned key, a white blouse abandoned at the dry cleaners, declining money Mel offers to repay what Cecily had stolen - Gladys begins to recall being a grandmother to her granddaughter, eventually removing the tinfoil from the windows and her heart to allow some light in.

Cyndi Sand-Eveland hardly makes the characters in The Tinfoil Sky likeable.  Mel is perhaps the most innocuous, keeping most of her thoughts to herself.  She works to please her mother and accept her weaknesses but Mel can see the consequences of Cecily's poor choices, regardless of how her mother tries to make things "fun".  As different as Cecily and Gladys are, they are truly mother and daughter, selfishly holding onto their bitterness and placing Mel in the middle.  It is only when Mel interacts with Gladys or Cecily one-on-one that their concerns for Mel are evident. Mel, Gladys, Cecily are real.  They are completely lacking in the family ties that create the saccharine families of TV sitcoms.  Instead Cyndi Sand-Eveland has created an authentic family with typically dysfunctional relationships that bind them together, willing or not.  And while I always am hopeful that most children have comfortable, loving families that help them become the best they can be, I know that there are those like Mel's in which children become amazing people in spite of their families, not because.

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