Summary: After the Sandy’s father dies of cancer, Sandy is left with her mother, the usually absent part of their little family. Drowning in grief and depression, Sandy begins to pull away from school and her friends, isolating herself in her misery until she reaches her breaking point when she finds out some startling news from her mother. Sandy’s best friend Lennie does her best to reach her and support her through the grieving process, but when Lennie’s mother’s brother shows up in town, a lot of family issues come to the surface. Suddenly there’s an explanation for why Lennie’s mother goes through man after man from the bar, and why she has never mentioned her family before. Both girls have complicated mother/daughter relationships, and learning to open up and talk things through won’t be easy for either family. On Sandy’s part though, it has to begin with a decision to go on living.
Number of Pages: 334
Age Range: 16-18
Review: The first time I read Somewhere in Blue by Gillian Cummings, I thought it was about a girl named Sandy grieving the death of her father. Reading the same book for the second time today showed me that it was so much more than that.
First of all, it’s beautifully written. Cummings’ writing reads like poetry with memorable imagery and prose that flows like water. It’s one of those rare books where I wholeheartedly agreed with the comment on the cover. Author Tim Wynne-Jones writes: “There is such heart here. So many tints and shades of blue but all suffused with light.” I’ve included several memorable quotes so you can read and experience Cummings’ writing for yourself. At times, it is breath-taking.
Second, Somewhere in Blue is about family. Both Sandy and Lennie have complicated relationships with their mothers; one seems to be trying too hard and one doesn’t seem to be trying enough. In both cases, communication is the key to understanding, but it’s a difficult thing to achieve when there are secrets in each family and powerful emotions that are hard to discuss. While I still have reservations about Vivian, I loved reading about Lennie and Teresa, her mother as their relationship deepened and they realised they were on the same side. They were both there for each other when they need it the most.
And third, the story is about more than just Sandy’s grief reaction to her father’s death. It’s about her mother’s reaction. It’s about Lennie feeling the loss of the family she’s never known. And it’s about Theresa having to face the truth of her childhood, grieving the tragedy that befell her, and the secrets that everyone kept that prevented it from ending.
If I had a list of my top five favourite literary boyfriends, Dan would be on it. The literal boy-next-door, he is always there for Sandy, trying to support her and bring her out of her depression. What I liked best was that even when he realised he couldn’t pull Sandy out of her depression, he still stood by her. Not to talk, but just to provide a physical presence of comfort. Dan’s willingness to do so was more meaningful to Sandy than the interventions others tried to stage for her.
As Sandy sinks deeper and deeper into grief and depression, she finally reaches her breaking point in a nail-biting moment when readers aren’t quite sure if Sandy wants to live or not. But my favourite part was that she did end up making a decision, and it wasn’t because anyone rescued her, she did it for herself. Once she had made her choice, her friends were immediately there to support her and everything gets just a little bit better with more change and improvement to come.
One more thing, and then I will promise I will stop gushing. I love the use of the quotes Cummings includes by Robert Frost. Frost writes that when one is dying, they take a journey that others can’t accompany them on. I think he’s right, there is a certain point where the journey must be made alone, but until that point, the comfort of friends and family is essential, even if there is a bit of distance between the two. I’m glad Sandy realises that she did accompany her father as far as she could, because I’m confident he appreciated all of her love and care.
I love this book and it is one of my all-time favourites because it is a thoughtful exploration of overwhelming grief with well-drawn, vibrant characters.
“The blue of her bedroom began to soother her. Her father had painted the room a couple of years ago based on a small color chip that, to Sandy’s eye, had seemed rather pale and lifeless. She’d grow to love the color, and these last few weeks she’d stared at the watery walls, their calm pooling like a glassy pond around her. The surface would break and she would slip in, no ripple left on top. Sinking down into the pleasingly muffled depths, she found her way closer to him.” – Sandy from Somewhere in Blue by Gillian Cummings, page 49
“And Lennie understood then that grief didn’t just pass. It could creep up on your from behind, quietly on all fours, and place its paw on you for a while. Teresa had come through it and didn’t collapse when the paw occasionally pinned her down. Sandy had to get through it, too.” – Lennie from Somewhere in Blue by Gillian Cummings, page 78
“There was life around – shrieking seagulls, strollers wheeling in the sun, a big family clustered around a couple of picnic table, dogs chasing Frisbees, kids on a slide – but so much seemed to have changed. It wasn’t only Sandy’s loss that wove through them like a different-colored thread. There was another disheartening thread, one of doubt or fear, and it was hanging loose. – Lennie from Somewhere in Blue by Gillian Cummings, page 144
“Things were getting clearer in Lennie’s mind now. It wasn’t about the prom. It was more about feeling alone. If Sandy was moving away from her, she needed to do some moving of her own. Change lanes. And the direction was clear: it was Teresa she wanted to pass. She had to pull out from behind, zoom right by, and get out in front.” – Lennie from Somewhere in Blue by Gillian Cummings, pages 146-147
“And in the comfort of that hug, Sandy felt both consoled and engulfed. The hug bore in deep, down into her bones, and she felt him all through her. Moving slowly, Sandy held him, trying to stave it all off.” – Sandy from Somewhere in Blue by Gillian Cummings, page 192
“Watching the girls work with their wool, she considered her own unraveling and decided that it was like someone pulling out her knitting. Some days, Sandy lost only a few stitches at a time, with the wool being drawn slowly back out through one loop, then through another. Other days it was worse, as if her grandmother had to yank yards of wool from Sandy’s precious scarf-in-progress to get back down to where she’d made a mistake.” – Sandy from Somewhere in Blue by Gillian Cummings, pages 254-255
“‘… the nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
they might as well not try to go at all.’
She contemplated how far she had gone with her father. Questions wracked her: Had it been so far short that she shouldn’t have tried? And if it had been far short, why had it carried her so profoundly into his loss? To Sandy it felt like a long journey.” – Sandy reading a Robert frost quote from Somewhere in Blue by Gillian Cummings, page 257
“The next week, brilliant sunshine bathed the city. Lawns suddenly looked green and lush and always in need of mowing. Leaves swelled in the heat, and the canopy of maples and oaks transformed neighborhoods into shady bowers. Walking home from school in just a T-shirt, Lennie soaked in the warm sun.” – Lennie from Somewhere in Blue by Gillian Cummings, page 258
“‘No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.’
There were more lines and they sounded like her mother:
‘Friends make pretense of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand.’
The words didn’t sound like Sandy. The things she understood were gone.” – Sandy from Somewhere in Blue by Gillian Cummings, page 298
“Vivian seized up inside. The chains tightened around her. And she understood that she could only break free by listening, by opening up to everything Sandy had to tell her, by acknowledging the terrible loss that separated them. She knew that her failings had found her and settled on her – and that she had to deal with them.” – Vivan from Somewhere in Blue by Gillian Cummings, pages 314-315
Somewhere in Blue by Gillian Cummings is published by Lobster Press, (2009).