Fig is a young girl trying very hard to connect with her father. It’s been them against the world since Day 1 when her mother left. Ever since, they’ve supported one another, sometimes Fig more than her father because she knows better than anyone how to take care of him during his “bad days”.
But when a previous bad day and a new incident at school puts her small family on the radar of Child Protection & Permanency, the balance of Fig’s world becomes very precarious. What will she do as a new visit from CP & P looms in three months? A new, suddenly close neighbor moves in? A whole host of other changes pop up? Fig’s got a lot to think about in Hurricane Season.
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Published: 7 May 2019
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Genre(s): Middle Grade/LGBT+/Realistic Fiction/Mental Health
This debut novel—about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about growing up and coming out—will make its way straight into your heart.
Fig, a sixth grader, wants more than anything to see the world as her father does. The once-renowned pianist, who hasn’t composed a song in years and has unpredictable good and bad days, is something of a mystery to Fig. Though she’s a science and math nerd, she tries taking an art class just to be closer to him, to experience life the way an artist does. But then Fig’s dad shows up at school, disoriented and desperately searching for Fig. Not only has the class not brought Fig closer to understanding him, it has brought social services to their door.
Diving into books about Van Gogh to understand the madness of artists, calling on her best friend for advice, and turning to a new neighbor for support, Fig continues to try everything she can think of to understand her father, to save him from himself, and to find space in her life to discover who she is even as the walls are falling down around her.
Nicole Melleby’s Hurricane Season is a stunning novel about a girl struggling to be a kid as pressing adult concerns weigh on her. It’s also about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about coming of age and coming out. And more than anything else, it is a story of the healing power of love—and the limits of that power.
Rating: 5 Stars
CW: depiction of manic episodes, a nervous tic that leads to mild self discomfort/harm, parental abandonment
Rep: mental health (bipolar disorder), MC who questions her sexuality, later-in-life queer realization
It was such an experience reading Fig’s story. Hurricane Season begins with this eleven year old girl desperately trying to hold her family together. Fig’s father, a pianist who once performed in well known concert halls, has been dealing with (at the time) undiagnosed bipolar disorder and raising his daughter alone after his wife/her mother abandoned the day old Fig. As the “bad days” become more common, more frequent during hurricane season in their New Jersey hometown, Fig makes an attempt to understand her father by signing up for art class over her preferred science.
Through the artwork of Van Gogh the letters he exchanged with his brother Theo, she makes some progress. There comes a time, though, when she has to realize that her brother is not Van Gogh and she is not Theo. It was difficult to attend these realizations with and sometimes ahead of her. As an adult reading the situation she was in, seeing her experience it, my heart hurt. The fear that Fig felt at the possibility of losing her family, the confusion she felt at not understanding a lot of things, this built up into a stressful situation for her that felt tremendous.
While Fig is intensely invested in understanding her father, she is also at a time in her life where she’s trying to figure out who she is and how that fits in with her peer group. There are numerous instances in the book, from parties to moments in class, where she questions herself and what she wants from these interactions with her friends, including what it means when a boy asks her to be his girlfriend. The influence of her father is felt in this interactions, due to public displays during manic episodes, and add to some of Fig’s stress which manifests, at time, in what I believe is a nervous tic wherein she tugs on her earlobe to the point of soreness.
The queer rep within Hurricane Season is handled well though subtly. Fig is questioning herself, particularly regarding her feelings for an older girl from the library. Things get a little confusing when a boy classmate who Fig considers her best friend expresses interest. She doesn’t have the language to use labels for her feelings, but throughout the story she becomes able to reason things out in her head and later in conversation with her father and said classmate.
Tim (Fig’s father) and Mark the neighbor across the street) also bring queer rep to Hurricane Season. As with Fig’s situation, there’s no direction labelling within the text so the situation can be a bit interpretive. I reached out to the author to ask specifically and Mark, who is introduced as a widower having lost his wife a few years ago, is bi. Tim, who’s only serious/last legit relationship was Fig’s mother (roughly eleven years), is word-of-god later in life gay realization.
I didn’t want to put this book down because Nicole Melleby’s writing style drew me in. Her characters were well crafted; I became attached to them and wanted to know more, hopin so hard that they would be alright. The timeline of thee book had a good tension to it throughout without uneven lag, which I liked a lot.
Hurricane Season is an impeccably written debut novel that is difficult to put down. I can see it appealing to its middle grade audience easily and most importantly. Additionally, though, I think it will also have crossover appeal to other audiences so that every age group that picks it up will be able to enjoy the story of Fig and her determination to understand.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.
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3 thoughts on “Review: Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby”
This sounds like a heavy book, but so well done and important. I love that Van Gogh is included as well (the cover is gorgeous!). I definitely want to check this out, great review!
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Thanks! It could be a little heavy at times, but not too much so. I think sometimes it might have seemed more so because as an adult reader I could interpret certain circumstances through a lense that a younger reader might not. The Van Gogh elements are interesting throughout. 🙂
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