Summary: Living with apathetic parents, Mona is the one who is responsible for her younger sister, Angélique (Bird). Bird is an eight year-old with a five year-old’s mind, and a desire to fly that makes her difficult to keep on the ground. Even though Mona complains about taking care of Bird, she loves her, filling a void left by the lack of their parents’ love. Interactions with neighbours on both sides lead to complications, and Mona and Bird are faced with decisions about facing their fears, connecting with others, and doing what is right, even without of the support of their parents.
Number of Pages: 125
Age Range: 15-17
Review: This Side of the Sky by Marie-Francine Hébert is a story about a unique relationship between sisters. Hébert’s writing reads like poetry, and her ability to express complicated emotions is skilled and vivid. I loved her book and poetry metaphors and included them in the Memorable Quotes section.
What I couldn’t figure out though is when this book is set. Mona and Bird’s father seemed a bit old-fashioned in his attitudes toward his black neighbours, but unless I missed it, no specific time period was mentioned.
Even though Bird is the one who wants to fly, both sisters are like fledglings thrust from the nest. Mona must learn that she can trust others and be honest, while Bird takes a more literal approach by climbing tall trees to try to get to the other side of the sky. The imagery is hauntingly beautiful.
I also loved the juxtaposition of the neighbours. Loving and inspiring mother/son relationship on the one side, twisted and harmful father/daughter relationship on the other. Mona’s family is situated between the two in physical position and in attitudes. Hébert clearly depicts the soul crushing aspect of abuse with Bird’s observation of ‘dead fish eyes,’ but ends on a hopeful note despite the events of the book.
My favourite scene was when Bird touches her baby brother’s head and says, “I choose you.” The cycle of love started by Mona continues, and Bird casts aside any jealousy she might harbour after being usurped as the youngest child in this most beautiful and touching act.
I want to hold on to this one so I can savour it again.
“‘Okay. The soul’s a kind of flame we’re got inside us. Don’t look so worried: it can’t burn you. Actually, it’s more like a breath.’
‘Like a sigh?’
‘Uh-huh, but a soundless sigh that never ends . . . and keeps your body alive. Sometimes, the soul can’t figure out what to do with its body; that’s when we say it’s lost. Understand what the soul is now, Bird?’
‘No, and neither do you!'” – conversation between Mona and Bird from This Side of the Sky by Marie-Francine Hébert, page 14
“I figured I’d do all my line at school before going hime. My parents are clueless where my homework’s concerned, but if ever they got nosy and realized I had lines to do, I’d get a slap. Not a real one though. My father doesn’t hit me anymore, ever since my mother threatened to turn him in. She shouldn’t have. I’d rather be hit. That way even though your cheek’s on fire, it doesn’t take long to cool down. Not when the burning ember in my head that I can’t get rid of; the fire lies smoldering under the ashes; all it takes is one look to fan the flames again.” – Mona from This Side of the Sky by Marie-Francine Hébert, page 17
“A book. A closed book, sitting there. Doing its thing while you do yours. Or that’s the way it should be. You think you’re safe, you forget about keeping your guard up, a minute’s distraction, you open a book and bang! It’s inside you. Not just any book; most books get it wrong, like anything the teacher does. No, the kind of book that gets hold of a part of you you didn’t even know existed and takes you so high you never want to come down again. Of can’t come down again. What you see there is so possible, you can’t help but compare. Exhilaration inside, outside nothing to match.” – Mona from This Side of the Sky by Marie-Francine Hébert, page 49
“A book of poems! Real ones. I suspected as much. The worst kind of words. All dressed up. Holding hands down the page. Not telling a story, not talking about one person in particular, just walking circles round you with their feelings. Before you know it, you find yourself stark naked at your center, without a story to cover up with or a single character to hide behind.” – Mona from This Side of the Sky by Marie-Francine Hébert, page 53
“All sentences writing themselves in my head every day, and I can’t manage to get a single one down on paper. Not a single one comes out of my head without crossouts and nonsense written in the margin. Words that are clawed to the quick before they can reach the page. There’s too much danger.” – Mona from This Side of the Sky by Marie-Francine Hébert, page 66
“Life’s a book. You get the one you’re hit with. Any old life. No way of knowing in advance what’s inside. You’re not allowed to read it first before you pay. It costs you big-time, you can’t exchange it afterwards, it’s secondhand, no money back. It’s covered in stains, all its pages earmarked. Who’d want such a thing?” – Mona from This Side of the Sky by Marie-Francine Hébert, pages 79-80
“‘We can all proudly bear the battle scars of our time, write our secrets on the walls, refuse to be ashamed.'” – quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estès from This Side of the Sky by Marie-Francine Hébert, page 125
This Side of the Sky by Marie-Francine Hébert is published by Red Deer Press (originally published in 2003 and translated into English in 2006 by Susan Ouriou).
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