“We’re like tea bags. In hot water, we just get stronger and stronger.” These two sentences from Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt echoed in my mind for days after I read them. The memorable simile seemed to sum up the essence of the book – and, ultimately, of life. I was impressed, enchanted – and when I realized that the words came from a twelve-year-old kid like myself, I was under the spell of a new favorite character.
Delsie McHill dislikes surprises; that’s why she loves tracking the weather, so that she can always be ready for what’s coming. But one summer her life is beset with unexpected changes. She has always lived with her kindhearted grandmother in Cape Cod, but now she begins to look at her life with new eyes and wonder why her parents abandoned her. A newcomer causes her to question the game-show-loving, tag-sale-shopping, quiet life which she and her Grammy lead. Most painfully, her best friend is growing away from her, and she is left suddenly and starkly alone. Luckily, Delsie has plenty of friends and neighbors who – although she doesn’t realize it – comprise the “normal” family she longs for. And through her experiences, Delsie finds out that people aren’t just what they seem on the outside – they are made up of the layers of history within.
The thing that makes Shouting at the Rain so satisfying, yet intriguing, to read is that – unlike with many other books – the main idea is never confirmed in one climax paragraph, but hinted in small ways throughout the story. Finding one of these keys to the theme is like discovering a hidden gift, giving the reader a feeling of accomplishment which isn’t easily found in most middle-grade books. However, clues like the description of a boat whose top coat chips away to show a rainbow of different-colored paint layers underneath, or the main character’s obsession with Strong Shoulder jars, cannot be connected to the main theme with absolute certainty because there is never any validation: novels don’t have answer keys. Despite this, one of the joys of reading is the search for meaning beyond the obvious, and the author of this book is adept at providing this pleasurable literary treasure hunt.
Another thing that impressed me about Shouting at the Rain is the author’s use of the “show-not-tell” writing tool; in other words, the art of showing a character’s emotions through their actions. Strikingly, not once in the book did the author give away any character’s feelings in a single word, but painstakingly described physical actions: staring at shoes, standing straighter, bouncing on toes. More than once, I had to stop reading and consult my knowledge of human body language – what are people feeling when they avoid someone’s gaze? And do shining eyes actually entail tears? The writing style of Shouting at the Rain forced me to rethink what I took for granted about how a person’s mental state correlates with their actions. In a way, it reshaped the way I look at the world. That is the power of books, and why I enjoyed this one so much.
“In hot water, we just get stronger and stronger.” This is a truth that applies to everyone. Shouting at the Rain brought it to life for me, as it brought to life many other truths, skillfully woven together into a story I’ll never forget. Most of all, Shouting at the Rain reminded me of how magical a good book can be, and I hope it does the same for you.