Thanks to Berkley for the advanced copy in exchange for my honest review!
From the #1 international bestselling author of The Lost Wife and The Velvet Hours comes an emotionally charged story about a mother's love, a teacher's promise, and a child's heart...
Aside from being the most pulchritudinous book I've held this year, I really enjoyed reading the beautiful, merged stories of Maggie and Yuri.
Here's the blurb:
"Katya, a rising ballerina, and Sasha, a graduate student, are young and in love when an unexpected tragedy befalls their native Kiev. Years later, after the couple has safely emigrated to America the consequences of this incident cause their son, Yuri, to be born with a rare health condition that isolates him from other children. Maggie, a passionate and dedicated teacher agrees to tutor Yuri at his home, even though she is haunted by her own painful childhood memories. As the two forge a deep and soulful connection, Yuri's boundless curiosity and unique wisdom inspires Maggie to make difficult changes in her own life. And she'll never realize just how strong Yuri has made her — until she needs that strength the most...A novel that will make readers examine what it means to live life with a full heart."
Basically, Maggie is a relatively new teacher who has just moved out of New York City to settle down with her college boyfriend, Bill. They get a lovely cottage to rent that is near Maggie's school and not too far of a drive for Bill to get to work, either. Maggie is such a sweet soul who often ponders what it means to be an educator and how her role affects the lives of her students. Her best friend is the art teacher at her middle school, and she spends a lot of time visiting her parents who live nearby, enjoying her mother's cooking, and listening to her father play his violins. She longs all winter long for Bill to make a fire in their cottage's fireplace. Maggie is enamored by the storybook image and traditional family roles.
I don't say this to fault Maggie's character. She comes across quite natural, really. I felt for her when she began to notice that Bill was not living up to be the man she thought she had moved in with. During college, they had a lot in common but as time in their new house went on I began to notice little things in Maggie's narrative that pointed toward her coming realization. Bill drank several beers almost immediately after coming home from work each night. He wasn't a mean drunk, but rather just the sit-on-the-couch-and-watch-TV-all-evening kind of beer drinker. Maggie has also been putting a lot of extra time into her teaching job, and accepts a tutoring gig on the side. This is how she meets Yuri. Bill tells her to stop getting too involved. Maggie makes remarks at home about being cold and a fire would be lovely but Bill acknowledges this by giving her a sweater for Christmas. All of this makes it quite obvious that their relationship will not last, and when Maggie finally decides to stand up for herself, admitting that she had been putting off the break up and failing to recognize that she has the capability to make her own fire, it comes as a huge sigh of relief.
Unsurprisingly, Maggie breaks up with Bill (this really isn't a spoiler, I promise!). She becomes even further invested in her classroom and in her home tutoring sessions with Yuri. She strives to provide Yuri with the most normal education she can give him, provided the circumstances which have led up to his inability to attend public school. Maggie and Yuri bond over baseball, specifically the Mets and Yankees rivalry so common amongst New Yorkers. Maggie gives Yuri the same assignments as her other students and begins to learn a lot about the boy. His mother, Katya, maintains a level of formality with Maggie, as if she is afraid to let her get too close. The situation is tugging at Maggie's heartstrings and she wants so badly to give Yuri a taste of what it's like to be back in the classroom, so she attempts to persuade Katya to talk to the doctor about Yuri visiting once a week. Katya immigrated to the United States with her husband and brings a lot of her past with her as emotional baggage. She's a caring mother, supported by her loving and intelligent husband, but she faces many challenges of her own that have the potential to interfere with Yuri's childhood experience.
The relationship between teacher and pupil develops so naturally and Maggie's earnestness is warmly welcome in the Y2K setting of the novel. I will leave the details of what ensues to be discovered through Richman's words - I highly recommend this novel for anyone who loves to read books based on true stories, books with elements of historical fiction, and of course for educators of all kinds.
The Secret of Clouds gets a solid four stars from me!