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Umbrella Summer
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
There's a reason I don't read Jodi Picoult. It involves the size of my eyelids the morning after I read one of her books. HUGELY PUFFY! Something happened when I had child number two-I can't cry over a sad movie, show, or book right before bed without waking the next morning looking like my eyelids have been stung by bees. It's not pretty.
This morning-puffy, swollen, bee-stung eyelids. Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff caused me to do some serious de-puffing this morning, but I loved this book! Sad books don't always make great read-alouds, but I do believe that the conversations you could have make this a good consideration for a read-aloud. I don't want to say anything else about the sadness, but boy is this a great book! The power of community to help a person heal-what a great message!
The main character Annie, is a girl I can relate to-she worries about everything! Bike safety, dangerous diseases, and more. She worries so much she has given up many of her favorite things to do, like racing on her bike with her best friend. Too dangerous. Now even though I can relate to Annie and her worries, the reason behind our compulsive worrying is not similar. We won't go into my issues, but Annie feels she needs to do enough worrying to keep herself and her family safe. Through her friendship with an elderly, new, next-door neighbor, the reading of Charlotte's Web (love books that reference other books!), and a few mishaps along the way, Annie learns that worrying isn't as necessary or all-consuming as she was letting be.
I'm so happy I loved this book, which sounds like a silly thing to say, but it bothered me that I did not like Bernetta Wallflower when so many other people have liked it. In my opinion it will become a kid's classic in the same vein as The Bridge to Terabithia.

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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2009
I received Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff for my birthday this year, just days after it came out. I was excited about this, because I had already read Mrs. Graff's The Thing About Georgie, and read about this book online.

When I was debating on whether or not to start reading it, I thought, "Well, I'll just read the first chapter to see how it goes." And I ended up reading half of the book. And later that evening, I read the rest.

At the end of the book, I couldn't figure out whether to cry or just smile like an idiot. The last paragraph/sentence was truly epic in my opinion.

Lisa Graff is an amazing writer, and her characters are always real and relatable. I am looking foward to her next book.

Over all, Umbrella Summer is a must read. Order it right now, or just run to the book store.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2010
Annie hates getting the "dead brother" look, but she seldom escapes it during the first year after her older brother Jared's death. Now Annie is ultra careful to make sure she does don't have any diseases (like Ebola) or take chances that may cause her to be injured (like running an obstacle course,) since no one knew her brother Jared was sick until it was too late. As Jared's birthday approaches, each of the people who knew and loved him struggle to deal with the fact that he is gone.

Each character in Umbrella Summer plays an important part in helping Annie discover how best to celebrate her brother's life. Lisa Graff paints a humorous and poignant picture of the lives of Annie, her parents, her best friend, and the community that surrounds them.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2011
Lisa Graff is now one of my favorite authors. She's one of those rare children's authors whose books speak to adults as well. I read The Thing About Georgie and loved it so much I bought copies for my son's 4th grade class.
Umbrella Summer was even better. The characters are funny and quirky and very real. There are messages in her books that are very powerful but in a way that isn't preachy or awkward. I'm 45 and I liked this book so much, I read it to my 10 year old son and then bought a copy for a friend.
I can't wait for more of her stories!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 18, 2012
I chose this book from a summer reading list for my school, and I'm really glad I did! I might spoil the story so if you have not read this book yet you might want to stop now! The story takes place in the present day in a small town in California. I know this because everybody has phones, computers, and cars just like we do today. The story does not move from place to place, and the story does not remind me of a real place or another book.

While reading the story, I felt sad and happy at the same time. I felt sad because the main character's brother dies but happy because she ends up making up with lots of old friends and learning how to live again. I think the author chose to write in this mood because maybe something happened like this in her family that turned out to have a happy ending.

There are three main characters:

1. Annie Richards, age: 10. Annie's only brother dies and her whole life changes. When her mom gets sad, she cleans the house, and her dad calls her Moonbeam. Annie describes her hair as being the same color as the owner of the grocery store's compost pile. After her brother dies, Annie finds a big green book of medical information, then starts thinking that she's going to die all the time like her brother. Her role in the story is that she loses lots of friends with her weird behavior, but then gets them all back by deciding to stop being so afraid of dying.

2. Rebecca Young, age: 10. Rebecca's dad is a doctor, and her mom is good at cooking. She has to have a babysitter whenever her dad goes to work. Rebecca is nice sometimes but mean others, and Rebecca and Annie decide that Rebecca's hair is the color of her mom's freshly baked bread. Rebecca is very good at obstacle courses. Her role in the story is that no matter how many times Annie and Rebecca fight, Rebecca always forgives and forgets.

3. Mrs. Finch, age: elderly. Mrs. Finch's husband died and she has no children. Mrs. Finch's hair has short white curls, and Annie thinks that her hair looks like the top of the lemon meringue pies Rebecca's mom makes. She's very nice to Annie, and she spends lots of time with her. Mrs. Finch is good at card games and cooking. Her role in the story is to move into a house that everyone thinks is haunted, and everyone ends up liking her after being afraid of her at first.

In the story 10 year old Annie Richards' brother dies and she is very sad. She gets medical book and every day she thinks she is going to die of a disease. A woman next door says that Annie is living her life in fear and needs to live her life. The major problem of the story is that Annie is making all her decisions based on her fears of dying. She needs to let go and 'close her umbrella' so she can start enjoying life again. The steps that lead to this problem are Annie's brother dying, the big green book of medical information that she reads constantly, and Annie always thinking that she's dying of something or going to die of something soon. There's also Annie's friendship with Rebecca that has lots of fighting because of the way Annie's acting. Rebecca wants Annie to go back to being happy. The problem is resolved when Mrs. Finch and Annie make a deal that Annie will return the big green book full of medical information back to Mrs. Harper, and that then Mrs. Finch has to then hang up a fish picture her husband painted that she had been afraid to hang because she was afraid it make her feel sad by looking at it.

I LOVED this book! My favorite part of the book was when Annie and Mrs. Finch made the deal that ended up helping them both get over their sadness and learn to be happy again. I wouldn't change one thing about this book, it was perfect just the way it is. I would definitely recommend this book to a friend!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2010
My daughter, who is extremely sensitive, loved this book and gave it to me to read. I thought it taught lessons without being preachy. It mixed humor in with the heart-breaking. An exceptional novel. This author has created a true gift for her readers and I think those who read it come away with a greater understanding and empathy for those around them.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graf is a wonderful story about a young girl who is afraid of having an accident-any kind of accident. She goes through boxes of band-aids and takes to reading a huge doctor's manuel for better diagnosing of her ailments. She has real reason to be afraid though as her older brother recently passes from an undetected heart problem and this is her way of working through her grief. This book is really well-written. Please have a box of tissues ready for last half of book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2013
This book is really good and I think everyone will love it!!! It has really great details and I didn't want to stop reading when I started. I would recommend this book to people who like Lisa Graff's other books, like double dog dare!!!This book is a little bit sad but I think you should definitely read it!!! It has a very good moral to the story!!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2010
I just finished the second grade and could not put this book down. It was a combination of things: funny, sad, angry -- all interesting. My mother was surprised that I would finish a book this thick, but it was so good it wasn't difficult at all. I really loved it. Check it out!
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on July 17, 2015
Spoiler Alert:

Because this is an in-depth review, it's impossible not to talk about the story from beginning to end. If you feel that would spoil the novel for you, please read Umbrella Summer first before reading this review.

Theme:

The theme of Umbrella Summer, by Lisa Graff, (HarperCollins, 2009), is one of loss, grief, and eventual healing. Few middle grade authors are capable of achieving an exposition of this theme in the manner of Lisa Graff. Her use of dark humor, which at once is engaging and yet tragic, forces us to examine what it means to lose a loved one. It illustrates what it means to live beyond the pain of loss.

Basic Plot:

Annie Richards is a ten-year-old girl who lost her brother five months prior. Her brother, Jared, had been playing hockey and was hit in the sternum by the puck. Her parents took him to the hospital because of his chest pains, but he was given a clean bill of health and sent home. He died shortly thereafter from what was later discovered to be an aortic dissection.

As a result of his accident, Annie is terrified that something, anything, could happen to her and she could end up dead as well. She becomes obsessed with being careful. When she goes out to play, she does so wearing Band-Aids over any mark or discoloration on her skin. She keeps ace bandages on her ankles to prevent unintended sprains, and dons full padding and a helmet whenever she rides her bike. At the very beginning of the story, we see that she will not even ride her bike down a hill because of the potential danger of going too fast; instead, she climbs off and walks it all the way down.

Since anything might be the cause of her demise, she reads up on all manner of disease and accidents so as to prevent them. She even steals a book about diseases from a neighbor during a yard sale and reads it obsessively in secret.

When the elderly Mrs. Finch, a newly widowed woman, moves into the neighborhood, she and Annie strike up a curious friendship. Together they help each other come to terms with their individual and isolating grief. Mrs. Finch tells Annie that her obsession with illnesses is really an umbrella she puts up to protect herself from the rain of grief she feels over her brother's death. The idea being that if she’s worried about being sick, then she is distracted from the pain she has, the sadness that Annie’s best friend’s father labeled “despondent.”

Mrs. Finch goes on to explain that when it's raining you need an umbrella, but if you leave it up too long, it blocks out the sunshine that is sure to follow. Annie agrees with her, and she and Mrs. Finch make a deal to help each other lower their individual umbrellas.

Nevertheless, as her late brother's birthday approaches, her parents become ever more distant from her. Annie is left to deal with her grief on her own. She is forced to come to terms with the reasons for her obsessive-compulsive fears, move past them, or become their prisoner forever.

Eventually, after problems at school and problems with her friends, she begins to see that her way isn't working. Through a series of realizations, and the counseling of Mrs. Finch, she not only finds a way to help herself back into life but finds a way to help her parents come out of their grief as well. Ultimately she learns it takes the help of others to bring down one's own defensive umbrella.

Setting:

Cedar Haven, California is the fictitious town where Annie lives with her parents. Her father is a writer, and her best friend's father is a physician. The kids are allowed to ride their bikes around the neighborhood unsupervised, so we get the impression of an upper middle-class setting. The very name “Haven” suggest a safe place to live.

The author's use of an idyllic summer setting, as opposed to a more violent urban environment heightens our sense of tragedy. The death of Jared occurs in a place where nothing bad is supposed to happen. This juxtaposition adds depth to the story and amplifies the impact of its theme.

Character:

The main character list includes Annie, herself, Rebecca (her best friend), Doug (the boy she loves to hate), the old lady, Ms. Finch, Annie's mother, Annie’s father, Rebecca's father, and of course, Annie's late brother, Jared.

The character arc for Annie is revealed as she moves from scared, obsessive-compulsive hypochondriac, to confident child, taking life by the handlebars and coming to peace with the death of her older brother. Annie, as it turns out, grows up as she grows beyond her grief.

Having said that, I was surprised by Graff's unique ability to create an eminently memorable character with Annie Richards. She acheived this by taking a risk. Since middle grade fiction normally focuses on the main character's reactions to external events, most middle grade uses a third person perspective; however, in this story, the author chooses first person narration to emphasize the subtle humor within the character's thought processes. Ultimately this makes Annie an interesting and unforgettable character--very well done in my opinion.

Symbolism:

An obvious symbol in the story is the umbrella. Indeed the cover illustration is that of an umbrella covering a young girl, but to consider the umbrella the central symbolism would be a major error.

Consider that until Mrs. Finch puts forward her theory of an imaginary defensive umbrella created by Annie's hypochondriasis, Annie's obsessive-compulsiveness with illness and injury seems to have a different origin. Annie is being completely ignored by her parents following the death of her brother. His room is kept locked and in exactly the way it was before his demise--as a kind of shrine. Since the grief of his loss consumes her mother to the extent of ignoring her only other child, and since her father has also detached himself from her, it is completely reasonable that Annie views her brother as more important dead than he ever was alive.

For that reason, I believe Annie's hypervigilance symbolizes Annie’s own death wish. After all, if she can become dead like her brother, then perhaps her parents will love her as they love him. For Annie, surviving has become a worse demise than being dead.

This same dynamic is present in the book by Judith Guest, Ordinary People. The main character, Conrad, is faced with the same parental message: his brother is more important than he is because his brother is dead.

Therefore, it is reasonable to assume the umbrella is not the real central symbol. Rather, I suggest Annie's OCD is the central symbol. Each disease Annie reads about, and claims to be scared of, really represents an essential death wish that scares her more than anything else.

This theory is supported in the text when Annie goes into her father's home office and sees a calendar with a big red circle around her late brother's birthday. She thinks:

He would always be the exact same age he was in February. But next year, on my birthday, I was going to turn eleven, and then the year after that I'd be twelve, and then I'd be older than my older brother. I went back to my room and crawled under the covers, wondering which would be worse--growing older than Jared or catching the plague.

Essentially, what Annie is telling us is that she is unsure whether it is better to go on living or to go ahead and die. How could she ever be more prominent (older) than her brother? How could she ever compete with his death for her parent’s attention?

Furthermore, the umbrella as symbol in this work seems forced upon us; it seems too simple. Like a clue that is too obvious in a mystery, it beckons us to look deeper into things. We are overtly informed her hypervigilance is an umbrella to protect her from feeling bad about her brother, but her hypervigilance appears more like a reaction formation against a desire to die and therefore be loved as her brother is loved.

Of course there is another major symbol in this story apart from both the hypochondriasis and the umbrella, and it further supports a theory of an unwanted death wish on the part of Annie. That symbol is the obstacle course her friend Doug keeps trying to get her to engage in. She won't build or participate in an obstacle course, because she is too afraid of being injured.

The obstacle course is mentioned throughout the entire novel, so we know it's a symbol of sorts, and by the end of the story, we see that it truly represents the struggle Annie has had in overcoming the death of her brother and in helping her parents to overcome their grief as well. It is only once she has resolved this struggle, and is once again unified with and loved by her parents, that she then finds the courage to run through Doug's obstacle course.

And that brings us to the end of Umbrella Summer. As Annie completes her character arc, she navigates the obstacle course with Doug and her friend Rebecca, and just before she does so, she tears up a will that she has written out and carried with her at all times. Thus we see that when the symbolism of the obstacle course comes to fruition--when Annie has won her struggle to regain her parents love, when she no longer fears having to die to get it--she destroys her unwanted “will of death.”

Moral:

An important moral of this story is that we, the living, have a responsibility to go on living even in the face of grief over the loss of a loved one. The gravity of that loss can pull us down like a whirlpool sucking us under the surface, but we have to be strong and find our way out. Of course this is easier said than done, but if we don't do so, we find in the message of Umbrella Summer, that a death can be contagious.

Impact:

Unfortunately, as it may present itself on the surface, I don't see Umbrella Summer as particularly useful to a child who has actually lost a loved one. The reason being is that the character of Annie is too outrageous, complex, and specialized to be widely applicable to most children. But therein lies the beauty of it:

Any child reading this book will fall in love with the character of Annie Richards. Graff's skill in characterization ensures it. In so doing, a child may find herself inclined toward the field of medicine. If she then explores the depths of this story and its characters, she may be inclined specifically toward psychology or psychiatry. For that reason, this story is important in that it encourages kids toward those noble fields of endeavor. It romanticizes them--and that is the heart of inspiration.

Recommendation:

Umbrella Summer is a must read. It’s a classic piece of middle grade literature. This review is late in coming, but this story is timeless, and I'm shocked it never won a national award such as the Newbery. Nevertheless, Lisa Graff has several books out, and she is a prolific writer. Her latest novel, at the time of this writing, is Lost in the Sun (Penguin, May 2015); therefore, I have no doubt with her continuing talent and unique middle grade voice; we will see her star rising very soon.

~ Edward Gordon, MGWA
http://midgradewriters.org
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