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A Reader of Fictions: Review: Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green

Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green

Author: Helen Phillips
Pages: 304
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Source: YA Books Central

Description from Goodreads:
Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal-winning author of When You Reach Me said this book is "brimming with surprises and grand adventure. Brave, smart, and full of heart, Madeline and Ruby are a gust of fresh air."

Mad's dad is the Bird Guy. He'll go anywhere to study birds. So when he's offered a bird-tracking job in Central America, his bags are packed and he's jungle bound.

But going bird tracking in the jungle and disappearing completely are very different things, and when the Very Strange and Incredibly Creepy Letter arrives, Mad can't shake the terrible feeling that her father is in trouble.

Roo, Mad's younger sister, is convinced that the letter is a coded message. And their mom is worried, because the letter doesn't sound like Dad at all. But Mad is sure it's a sign of something sinister.

The only way to get to the bottom of it is to go to Lava Bird Volcano and find their dad themselves. Though they never could have imagined what they're about to discover.

From new talent Helen Phillips, Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green is the story of what can happen when two sisters make some unusual friends, trust in each other, and bravely face a jungle of trouble all to bring their family back together.

First Sentence: "So here we are in this shaky little airplane high above the jungle, which is kind of (very) scary."

Oh, middle grade books, you are just so delightful. One of my goals this year is to read more of them, because I've had such good experiences with all of my middle grade selections. Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green is the latest success. Phillips' debut is enchanting, full of adventure, nature, and a little bit of magic.

For those who like to indulge wanderlust with fiction, Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green is a real treat. Set in the jungles of Central America, the descriptions are as lush and verdant as the landscape being described. Phillips captures both the beauty and the danger inherent in such a setting, from the poisonous bright-colored tree frogs to the daily monsoon-like rains. The descriptions bring this Central American jungle to life.

Using this setting, Phillips conveys important messages about modern society's treatment of the environment and extinction of natural species. In Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green, the two young heroines and Kyle, a new (cute) friend, team up to save a species of bird, the Lava-Throated Volcano Trogon, from final extinction. A Lazarus species, the LTVTs were already thought extinct once, but now they are being hunted to death for sinister purposes, and, for some reason, their father, a bird expert and lover, is involved. Phillips manages to get her environmental messages across organically, without any preaching.

My very favorite aspect of the story is the dose of magical realism that Helen Phillips added into the mix. La Lava, the plush resort Madeline and Ruby's father works for, is located next to an active volcano, one not believed to blow for another hundred years. However, this volcano's explosive tendencies correlate with the health of the LTVTs. If they die out, the volcano will explode. There are also these giant flowers that can be used as umbrellas if you push the right spot, and glowing mushrooms. These little magical touches really brought the story to life, adding a cinematic touch that middle graders will love.

Mad makes a rather unique heroine. Middle grade MCs tend to be funny and plucky kids, adventurous and brave. Mad, on the other hand, fears pretty much everything and envies the confidence and talents of her younger sister. Mad's jealousy of Roo does wear a bit thin, but I was so happy when Mad finally realized her own strengths. Roo does seem a little bit too magical and clever, though, so Mad's inferiority complex does make a bit of sense. For example, Roo picks up Spanish in just a couple days.

The plot follows pretty standard middle grade lines. Ruby and Mad's parents, while ordinarily loving and pleasant, have been made to act not like themselves. To restore their parents, Roo and Mad have to complete a quest, using ingenuity and determination. Along the way, Roo has a first crush. It's all very cute and empowering, if not anything out of the ordinary.

Helen Phillips transports you to another place and takes you on a journey through the jungles. Her skill at description and timely message make Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green a wonderful choice for middle grade readers (and older ones too).

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Quote:
"It used to be that whenever I felt sad or angry or jealous, Dad would explain that just a few little chemicals were creating the feeling. He said: Just a few little chemicals, no big deal, easy to ignore.
     He also said: Did you win the lottery?
     And I said: No.
     And he said: Yes you did! You won trillions of lotteries! First you won the lottery of the Big Bang, and then you won the lottery of evolution, and then you won the lottery of me and your mother being assigned to the same dorm in college, and then you won the lottery of our ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends being fools, and then you won the lottery of us falling in love and getting married. Not to mention the lottery of the United States of America and a loving middle-class family."

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Blogger Stephanie said...

Ooh, magical realism in middle grade...I will have to check that out! If you're looking for more middle grade with interesting settings, I just read a recent one set in ancient Egypt, Lights on the Nile by Donna Jo Napoli, that you might want to check out. It also had some magical realism but really crossed the line into fantasy at the end. I had a few issues with it--in some ways the first and second half seemed like 2 different books, though I'm not sure how the author could have changed that--but it was very interesting and unique. Especially interesting were a bunch of subtle references to Peter Pan/Tinker Bell.

January 28, 2013 at 3:20 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh, I have an ARC of that one my friend brought me after ALA last year, but, obviously, I haven't managed to read it yet.. Hmmm, the first half and second half being different can be effective, but usually ends up feeling clunky and disjointed.

January 28, 2013 at 3:27 PM  
Blogger Gina @ My Precious said...

I read and enjoyed this one last year, I didn't really pick up on the magic realism, though now that you point it out and I look up the definition, it certainly applies. I really liked Roo, she was my favorite. I too appreciate that Mad finally started getting some credit and finding her true worth.

January 28, 2013 at 6:19 PM  
Blogger Bekka said...

This sounds really good, and I love that the setting is out of the norm. But I usually find MG titles too predictable. I'll look for this at the library, I think.

January 28, 2013 at 8:58 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

I think it might bother you a little bit--it's mostly that the secondary characters you get attached to in the 1st half fade to the background, and you have a whole new set of characters introduced in the 2nd half. I personally think it's worth reading for the Egyptian history/setting/animals and the Tinker Bell stuff, but I'm a Tinker Bell nut.

January 28, 2013 at 11:56 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Hmm, well, I'll find out someday. I don't have time to read it right now.

January 29, 2013 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I love magic realism. It's so wonderful. Hmm, I'm not sure who my favorite is. Maybe Kyle. That was the weakness for me; I didn't really get attached to anyone.

January 29, 2013 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yes, the setting is wondrous. You probably will find the plotting too predictable. I agree that that can be a huge drawback. I will say, though, that they did have to do some real problem solving, rather than being stumped by incredibly obvious clues.

January 29, 2013 at 9:34 AM  
Blogger Adriana @ BooksOnHerMind said...

Ah, you know of the wonders that middle grade books can give. I can see Mad being a little too jealous. That happens sometimes. Authors sometimes go over board. I really like this idea. I always like when kids take center stage and are the heroes. Saving their parents from doom! Plus I find after reading Okay for Now that anything with birds is worth a try.

January 29, 2013 at 11:19 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

You should definitely check this out. It's a very awesome setting, and they do take center stage. Roo is sort of a wunderkind, so it makes a certain amount of sense, but she's like three years younger. The dynamics seemed odd to me, but I never had siblings, so maybe that does happen?

January 29, 2013 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Heidi said...

Oh yay! I was curious about this one before it came out, but yours is honestly the first review of it that I've seen. It sounds like a lot of fun, I love magical realism and wanderlust type books, though I'm unsure about how much I'd like Mad--if the inferiority would get on my nerves. Still good to see something different in MG though!

January 30, 2013 at 4:15 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yeah, the jealousy of the younger sister element went a little too far imo, and kept me from really connecting with the characters, but the story itself was still enchanting enough for this to be a highly enjoyable read. Especially because of the magical realism, which is one of my favorite things in books.

January 30, 2013 at 4:21 PM  
Blogger Kara_Malinczak said...

Okay, so middle grade books are predictable and you know this will have a happy ending, but I love MG books anyway. And this one sounds awesome! Usually my issue in MG books is voice. I feel like a lot of MG books talk down to their readers and it drives me NUTS.

I like that this is an unusual setting and the plot sounds really cute! I saw this in the store and almost bought it but I had a book limit and there were things I wanted more. But soon!

February 1, 2013 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

They are, but if they have good characters and such, they are so wonderful despite that. There's something to be said sometimes for knowing what you're going to get, you know? Oh yeah, when they talk down to the readers, ugh. That's the worst. I don't like those.


February 1, 2013 at 3:02 PM  

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