Allison's Book Bag

Flowers in the Sky by Lynn Joseph

Posted on: April 19, 2014

Flowers in the Sky by Lynn Joseph is a coming-of-age young adult romance with a multicultural palette. The main character of Nina leaves her lush island home of the Dominican Republic to live with her brother in New York and to seek a better life. In this tale of innocence and intrigue, Joseph recognizes the gloriousness of living in the land of opportunity, while not shying away from an exploration of the darker and grittier side that immigrants can face in the United States. I related strongly to fifteen-year-old Nina’s homesickness, along with her plunge into independence and romance.

What struck me most as I settled into a leisurely read of Flowers Flowers in the Sky is how in many ways Nina’s story felt like mine, because in 1998 I too reluctantly left my family and Canada to change my life. Nina didn’t want to leave her flowers or the nearby sea. Nor did she want to say goodbye to walks with her Mami, during which cool breezes blew over her skin and she sipped on a soda. If Nina left, she’d miss the joys of singing along to the songs floating from the stereo speakers of parked cars. Fantastic tales of trips to the capital or a cousin who won the lottery were also part of her weekend highlights. Life in the Dominican Republic was good. And then she moved to New York, where she faced crowded and sweaty subway stations, humid air, and sidewalks that smelled of burnt tar. Buses rushed by, not stopping to pick up late passengers who then proceeded to swear. Nina felt burdened by fear and regret, wanting only to return home.

Yet Nina didn’t leave. After all, her mother felt that life in New York would give Nina more opportunities, good schools, and a rich prince. Nina’s brother tried to help her feel more settled by bringing her flowers that she could grow on their apartment balcony. Yet try as she might, Nina continued to feel torn between her old life and her new life. She held many conversations with an older lady friend about how to fit into this awful new place, how to embrace change without letting go of her former life, and why she should even let go of what she loved. The longer Nina stayed, the more independent she grew. Nina even started to assert herself with her brother, demanding that he help her with housework and defying him with her choices of boys. Her brother wasn’t always sure how to handle this new sister, but in reality he had himself changed before she came to live with him. And here arises the darker and grittier side of being a stranger in an alien country. The longer she stayed in New York, the more Nina worried about losing her true self. Her brother might already have lost his way.

Part of Nina’s new life involved a love triangle, which only partly works for me. One of her options is a fellow student who wants to date her, but Nina likes him only as a friend. Her other option is a local barber named Luis who is handsome, rich, and mysterious with a troubled past. He sweeps Nina off her feet, while acting as a protector against her bullies and sending her expensive gifts. Combine this with her brother’s dislike of Luis and his role feels cliché. I enjoyed the moments when they shared casual conversations, but not so much those when he acted evasive or when the two become romantic.

Flowers in the Sky marks the welcome return of Lynn Joseph to writing after a ten-year absence. Despite its minor flaws, I highly enjoyed Flowers in the Sky. Like Nina, I missed my family greatly after leaving home. Moreover, I felt miserable in my new location, which consisted of so much pavement and noise. Yet also like Nina, I discovered the richness that change can bring. Flowers in the Sky should be a welcome title to multicultural shelves, while also telling a charming and universal story.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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