Middle-Grade Monday: Getting Near to Baby, by Audrey Couloumbis
Title: Getting Near to Baby
Author: Audrey Couloumbis
Publication Info: 1999, Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. 211 pages in the original hardback. I read the ebook.
Source: Library digital resources
Willa Jo and Little Sister are up on the roof at Aunt Patty’s house. Willa Jo went up to watch the sunrise, and Little Sister followed, like she always does. But by mid-morning, they are still up on that roof, and soon it’s clear it wasn’t just the sunrise that brought them there.
The trouble is, coming down would mean they’d have to explain, and they just can’t find the words.
This is a funny, sometimes heartbreaking, story about sisters, about grief, and about healing. Two girls must come to terms with the death of their baby sister, their mother’s unshakable depression, and the ridiculously controlling aunt who takes them in and means well but just doesn’t understand children. Willa Jo has to try and make things right in their new home, but she and Aunt Patty keep butting heads. Until the morning the two girls climb up to the roof of her house. Aunt Patty tries everything she can think of to get them down, but in the end, the solution is miraculously simple.
This is a book about loss and grief and how children cope. And for most of the book I thought that was what it was mostly about, which is a good enough reason for being a book. At first, it seemed it was going to be one of those books with a totally misunderstood kid in the hands of a dense adult, but Couloumbis managed to make it much more than that.
In the end, I thought the theme of grief might have been a deliberate misdirection from another possibly more important message: that everyone is human, and everyone has feelings (and most of us don't know how to manage them). Willa Jo and her Aunt Patty are more alike than they know, and when they start to see it, they can stop fighting each other.
This is a sweet, well-written book that unfolds the story of the girls' grief nicely. And then it manages to get richer, not in a sudden way, but gradually so that you only see it when you look back. Definitely worth a read.