Guilt. It can be overpowering for an adult– but even more so for a child. Guilt over a poor choice made at school, guilt over treating a friend badly, or in the case of Cyclone, the wonderful new middle grade novel by Doreen Cronin, guilt over a serious health issue they believe they somehow caused. This novel gripped me right from the start, both for it’s intriguing premise and it’s matter of fact and authentic narrator.
Cyclone begins when the narrator, 12 year old Nora, blackmails her older cousin into riding one of the oldest roller coasters at Coney Island. Riley is terrified, but she gives in and goes along with Nora. They ride successfully, but when they exit the rickety roller coaster, Riley collapses. It turns out Riley had a preexisting heart condition (and the ride specifically had signs saying it should not be ridden by anyone with heart problems!) which caused her to have a stroke– a condition not solely reserved for adults. Nora is fraught with guilt, believing that she caused Riley’s stroke, and this challenge is a through-line of the novel. What follows is the story of Riley’s rehabilitation and eventual recollection of the events leading up to her collapse… and as the chapters unfold, we learn Riley, too, has a secret she feels to guilty to share.
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Nora’s voice is honest and pure, and her use of footnotes through the narrative not only ground the reader in the story but explain some of the important medical terminology to help children understand Riley’s diagnosis. More importantly, though, Cyclone is extraordinarily relatable. It explores persistent feelings of guilt through both primary and secondary characters and deftly depicts the ways guilt can shape and challenge our relationships both with others and with ourselves. This is a pitch-perfect read for late elementary schoolers that provides them an avenue to safely examine their own feelings of shame or self-reproach, but also nurtures empathy as they root for Riley’s rehabilitation. Two trunks up!
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Want the book? Get it here! Cyclone, by Doreen Cronin. *This is an affiliate link.