The Secret of Clouds

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 26 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

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, however 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 plot, 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.

--

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 additional information about the lives of the characters, and it 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.
Was this review helpful?
What a touching novel about embracing life.  If you want a book to cuddle up, one that will work its way into your heart and leave you inspired, this is the novel for you.  

I need to comment on the love between Katya and Sasha.  I believe that these two have been living with some type of stress during their whole relationship. When they left Kiev and settled into America, I felt that they had to have known that they might be harboring some harmful effects of the disaster that had just occurred.  No one really knew at that point what the future held for the victims of that disaster. Starting over in America, Katya would soon give birth to Yuri, a son who would be born with a rare heart defect. 
 
The feelings that Sasha had to have felt as Yuri was diagnosed with this rare disease.  Then, as the years passed and Yuri missed out on being a typical child, it had to be hard as a parent, to see their child not interacting with other children because of his disease. I felt overwhelmed for this couple as it seemed there was a dark cloud over them yet, you could see and feel the love between Sasha and Katya.  They supported one another and looked out for each other. There could have been negative feelings/comments or a child who was angry but instead there was love.

When Maggie was brought into the picture, she questions exactly what she can do for Yuri. When asked to home-tutor him, Maggie sees him at face value. It isn’t until she connects with him, that she really sees what’s inside him and realizes that there is a little boy in there just waiting to come out.  Maggie wants Yuri to have as much as a life as his disease will allow him to.

Meanwhile, Maggie is doing some growing on her own.  Maggie is finding excitement in her work as she’s working with her students and Yuri.  Incorporating new ideas and talking with others, Maggie is energized in finding ways to help her students be successful even though sometimes they might not always work. As she shares these ideas with her boyfriend, she finds that he is not always “there” for her.  She had thought that moving in with her boyfriend would be the next step in their relationship but now, she has realized that he’s comfortable and content with life the way it is, while she is not.  

There are many little lessons to take away from this novel which have to do with life.  I was afraid that the ending was going to be sad but it ended on a positive note. It took me a while to get into this novel but once I got into it, I really enjoyed it. 

I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
The Secret of Clouds is about a young teacher, Maggie, whose enthusiasm for her middle school students and her passion for introducing them to the joys of reading and writing seems limitless. Maggie is asked to take on an additional role, tutoring a 12-year-old boy named Yuri who is unable to come to school because of a health condition. Hesitantly, Maggie agrees, but soon is completely charmed by this lonely boy and becomes determined to help him regain an interest in the world around him.

Bonding through his love of baseball, Maggie slowly draws Yuri out of his shell of apathy, and soon has him engaging with her and the worlds of literature she’s introduced him to with real interest and insight. As she begins to earn Yuri’s trust, Maggie also learns more about his parents, Katya and Sasha, and their desperate love for their ill son.

Katya and Sasha lived in Kiev at the time of the Chernobyl disaster, and while they themselves suffered no adverse effects, like so many others, their offspring suffered birth defects — in this case, a rare heart ailment — due to their own radiation exposure.

Meanwhile, as Maggie witnesses Yuri’s struggles to live his limited life to the fullest, she reassesses her own life and relationships, seeing where her true happiness lies and making the changes needed to live life to her best ability.

The Secret of Clouds is touching and appealing in many ways, yet something about the writing style let me down. It’s the old “show, don’t tell” issue: I felt like Maggie was sharing a summary of her experiences, rather than drawing me in enough to see the events myself. The writing kept me at a distance throughout, as entire months or sometimes years went by in the span of a few paragraphs. There was no sense of immediacy; I rarely felt as though I had entered into a scene or had a genuine moment of emotional connection. For example, when Maggie meets and falls in love with a new man in her life, it’s very nice for her, yet I’d be hard pressed to tell you a thing about him other than that he’s a musician and seems to be a really great guy. Granted, their love story was not the main point of this book, but he feels like a cipher to me.

From the synopsis, I expected Katya and Sasha to have equal time in this novel alongside Maggie, but that’s not the case. While we see their lives in Kiev in the early chapters, once it’s been established that they were exposed to fallout from Chernobyl, the story shifts entirely to its 1999/2000 setting, focusing on Maggie and Yuri. Katya and Sasha become supporting characters, in the background as Yuri’s parents, but not central point-of-view characters.

The Secret of Clouds is a fine read with an interesting story to tell, but unfortunately the writing style kept me from feeling truly emotionally invested. I will say, though, that if every student had a teacher as committed, idealistic, and compassionate as Maggie, the world would be a much, much better place!
Was this review helpful?
DNF at 57%.

The beginning was so beautifully written, ballet scenes and start-of-school-year-optimism, casual rep for immigrants and illness. I was captivated for the first 20-30% of this book — vivid secondary characters, musings on storytelling and teaching like the quote above, sweet moments with individual students — and then the cracks really started to show as the "little" things that bugged me started to take up more space and have more impact on the story.

Honestly, a lot of my issues with this narrative can be traced back to Maggie, the primary narrator. Even for a fairly-new teacher, she does some objectively unprofessional things: laughing at a student's New Year resolutions, giving her chronically-ill one-on-one student "a playful punch on his arm," questioning her students' parents' judgment of what's [literally] safe for their kids, generalizing her students ("All teenage boys want to be outside playing ball"), even seeing herself as a kind of savior/supreme guide towards knowledge and adulthood. 

And she's extremely judgmental, whether inside or outside the classroom — little moments that might've been tolerable if this book were being published years ago, before we as a society started paying more attention to inclusion and power imbalances — including promoting mild stalking as a "romantic" dating practice, needlessly labeling the other women in her life (i.e., the "prettier" best friend and the mother-in-law "belonging to that strange sphere of females who when you called them 'handsome,' everyone knew right away what you meant"), and having the one student with an Asian name (Lisa Yamamoto) making origami cranes and gifting her a "bento box with lacquered chopsicks" for Christmas. This is problematic in several ways, and I'm not here for it.

(Meanwhile I enjoyed Katya's backstory and flashback scenes, though maybe that's because we got less of it? In any case, the narrative didn't feel balanced between the two stories, and the placement of Katya's chapters felt arbitrary.)
Was this review helpful?
This was a heartwarming book that made me laugh and cry and want to hug my loved ones. For any baseball fans out there, this is a must read. It was well written and the emotions were so realistic. I felt like I was in the story. This is a book that will stay in my heart for a long time.
Was this review helpful?
This was such a beautiful story and it is one that has stayed with me even after I finished it. I loved that not only is there the main focus on Yuri and his teacher Maggie, but we get the back story to Yuri’s parents and Maggie’s life outside of being a teacher as well.

This book had an interesting mix of contemporary points of view and historical fiction as well. I was not bored nor was I confused with the varying points of views.

Each character’s story was full of life and moving. It was very easy to become attached to the characters. This book is so well written and I could not put it down. I will definitely be picking up her other books.
Was this review helpful?
This is an interesting, “feel-good through tears” story that is slightly reminiscent of WONDER in the classroom scenes.  A young English teacher home tutors Yuri, a sixth-grade boy who has a weak heart.  Over the academic year, the teacher manages to break through Yuri’s displeasure at being at home by bonding over baseball.  Her assignments to the class, and to Yuri, include keeping journals and writing letters to their 18-year-old selves.  The teacher arranges to have another baseball-loving student visit Yuri regularly, and, towards the end of the school year, she convinces Yuri’s parents to allow him to attend school one day a week.  
Most of the book describes that sixth-grade year.  The last part, which covers the years until those students graduate, seems a bit rushed in comparison.  The teacher’s personal life is also explored.  To me the teacher seems overly obsessed with her students, and especially with Yuri, to the exclusion of almost everyone and everything else.  I know many teachers are dedicated, but this teacher’s dedication seems exaggerated.  I read a preprint courtesy of NetGalley, where the title of the book is sometimes referred to as A FAMILY CLOUD.  After reading the book and understanding the significance of clouds, I prefer that title.
Was this review helpful?
This is the story of Yuri, a boy whose parents immigrated to the US after the Chernobyl tragedy. They didn’t know the lasting effect that tragedy would have on their future. Their son was born with a heart defect that prevented him from experiencing a life other children and parents take for granted. But it didn’t stop him from loving baseball and his favorite team, the NY Yankees. And that served as a connection to his English tutor, Maggie Topper. They bond over their love of the sport which leads to lively conversations and writing in a journal and reading books. I loved that while Maggie was there to teach Yuri she learned so much from him – ultimately that life is meant to be lived no matter how much time we have.  The Secret of Clouds is an emotional novel. Alyson Richman used baseball, classical music, the power of the written word and the importance of personal interactions – which is to say, she wrote the book I want to read.
Was this review helpful?
What a fantastic story.  Katya and Sasha lived through the Chernobyl disaster and are now safely in the United States.  Most of the story takes place years after they moved and centers around their son who is living with a heart condition that has the ability to be fatal.  They are protective of their son which leads to Maggie a teacher coming to their home to tutor him to try to keep him up to speed.  Maggie will turn their world upside down in all the best ways.  

The big thing I loved about this book was the focus on teachers and the impact that teachers can make on children.  Maggie was not a perfect character, by no means.  She had things going on, but when she entered the classroom or Yuri's home she put it all aside and put the kids first and really wanted to teach them in the best way possible.  I really enjoyed reading about a teacher working and succeeding to inspire her pupils to learn to love to learn.  

I liked the few chapters that went back in time and place to when Katya and Sasha met and their lives before they moved and before they had their son.  It was great to get a glimpse into their lives that led them to where they were now and informed the decisions they were making for their family.   

This was just a solid story and I would recommend it to all sorts of readers.
Was this review helpful?
I wanted to like this book more than I did.  It’s certainly an ode to our wonderful underpaid teachers who pour themselves into their students because they love teaching kids.  Maggie Topper’s engagement with her middle school students bordered on passion.  I wish she had been my kids’ teacher!  Middle school is a  well known period of raging hormones and uncertainty, but Ms Topper loved her students and was unfazed.

In the 20-something years my daughter-in-law has taught, she has had a number of crushing experiences with several students over the years, but she has poured everything into each kid, no matter what.  When one received a cancer diagnosis, she cut her hair along with her student, in solidarity.  It’s inconceivable to me that one student could completely unhinge a seasoned educator.  I found the frequency of tears unbelievable.  Don’t get me wrong - I thoroughly enjoyed the book and all the characters in it.  We should embrace with Yuri the sentiment from Tuck Everlasting, that a life needs to lived fully, whether long or shot.  Indeed!
Was this review helpful?
This is a story that touches on the impact a teacher can have on their students. However, some things seemed a bit too neatly done, as there wasn’t as much drama or tension as I had expected, especially when having teacher/student scenes. I did enjoy the relationship she had with her students. However, it wasn’t exactly realistic, and the dialogue was a bit stilted.. I used to teach, and the kids aren’t always agreeable, etc. I liked how the two story lines were connected. Overall, this is a pleasant, yet average, read.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy from NetGalley, but I wasn't required to leave a positive review.
Was this review helpful?
The Secret of Clouds is a book every teacher should read.  Being a teacher, it reminded me of how close to my heart each of my students are regardless of their status, health, or situation in life.  We never want to lose one of them in any way..  Alyson Richman's book hit home and strengthened my faith in my profession and life ever after,
Was this review helpful?
A good story about the devotion many teachers have to their students.  Maggie is asked to tutor a student who is too ill to leave home to go to school. I think teachers will love this book and will probably take away ideas they would like to try.
Was this review helpful?
Poor, poor Bill. He is a kind and caring man who wants nothing more than to be comfortable with his long-time girlfriend, maybe get married and have kids with her someday. He likes to kick back with the occasional beer, maybe watch some TV. He’s a decent guy and his passive aggressive girlfriend, Maggie, does not appreciate him at all. This, by the way, is not at all the alleged point of the book. The book is about Ukrainian emigres (and their part of the story is GREAT!) whose ailing son Maggie tutors; and who along the way teaches Maggie the meaning of true happiness. There is an attractive music teacher. And there are some tears, unquestionably. But really, this is a story of how badly done by is poor, poor Bill. Sometimes, Maggie, it’s not him, it’s you. – Maura Tan
Was this review helpful?
Maggie is tutoring Yuri,  a young boy born to a Ukrainian immigrants.  Yuri was born with a serious health condition which makes it impossible for him to attend school.  The parents Katya and Yuri lived near Chernobyl and weren’t warned of the possible dangers to them or future children.   

There are 2 story lines in this book.  It is a fast read and mostly predictable.  The story flows well and at times it is touching but it just didn’t grab me.  Thank you to net galley for an advanced copy.
Was this review helpful?
Charming book written about a family that lived in Russia when Chernobyl exploded.  They lived close enough to be gravely affected.  Plus they were not warned of the danger involved with the escaping radiation.  Katya, an aspiring ballerina, spends her days lying in the sun and swimming in the river unaware of the danger.  Her child is later born with a serious heart defect.  They move to America and their son Kiev is not strong enough to attend public school.  Maggie, a teacher from the local school takes on the assignment of tutoring Kiev.  She helps him greatly to expand his world beyond the window of his room and in the process falls in love with him.  Very touching story about family love, the teaching profession and dedication to both.
Was this review helpful?
The Secret of Clouds is at times very touching as we see the relationship between Yuri and Maggie grow as she tutors and comes to care for this young man. The importance of words and stories in our lives and our need to live life to the fullest are good messages to spread. I just felt at times that it was a little too predictable and melodramatic. Still, I think this would make a good book club discussion book.
Was this review helpful?
I received a personal email with a widget to download this title, and appreciate it, as always. I thought the story was unique and poignant, but the narrative tone and pace were not as enjoyable to me as other books I've read,  This would be a 3 star read for me.
Was this review helpful?
O-M-G this story was fantastic. 

This has to be the most emotional book I have ever read and it was so touching. I came into this book blindly if I’m being honest, so I didn’t know what was about to go down. I just knew that it was a book about a relationship between a teacher and a kid. However, everything changed for me after chapter 1. When I finished chapter 1 I knew that this book was going to be so devastating and yet so powerful. 

As a person that has always had high respects for teachers, I felt a connection right away. The writing was fantastic and the author writes these set of characters so beautifully. Throughout the novel you feel this sympathy for the characters and feel like you know them. While reading this book I felt like I was watching a movie, the words just flew by and I couldn’t stop. 

I really loved Yuri’s character because I learned a lot from his resilience. One of the most memorable characters in my opinion. Ms. Topper was also one of my favorite characters because she just fit that image of all the wonderful English teachers I had over the years. 

Moreover, what I liked most about this book was the historical background that it contained. As mentioned I came into this book without any expectations so I was happy that the author included some history to the story and it made the story even more enjoyable. If you didn’t know before I love learning history so that was a high for me.

To continue, one of my favorite things to do when reading is finding the definition of the book title inside the pages. This is what kept me going in this novel. The title, The Secrets of Clouds, was just so interesting and fascinating that I just had to keep on reading to find what it meant. And it didn’t disappoint when I found out. It made the book even more popping, if you know what I mean.

All in all, if you want a book that will move you to the core and will make you think about life in a different way please pick this one up when it comes out. I promise you that this book will rock you and take you on a hell of a ride. But also make sure to have some tissues near you because this one is super sad. 

Thanks Berkley Publishing for sending me this one. I’m so grateful.
Was this review helpful?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I liked seeing how the relationship between teacher and student grew. This was a touching story.
Was this review helpful?