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Heartbreak and Healing: Lynn Joseph's Dancing in the Rain
A twelve year old girl who believes she is a mermaid and an eight year old boy far wiser than his years find solace in each other in the aftermath of 9/11. With the feel of a fairy tale and the plot of a documentary, Dancing in the Rain follows the alternating narratives of two Dominican children as they deal with a tragedy that will change their lives forever.
Twelve-year-old Elizabeth lives in a dreamland where hair and waves can be butterflies and where horses dance in the rain. She finds familiarity and succour in nature, frequently escaping her Doña Maria’s house in the Dominican Republic to watch the sea from her backyard. Meanwhile in New York eight-year-old Brandt daydreams over the Hudson River while playing peacemaker with his mother and older brother. Both lives will be overturned in unimaginable ways after the devastating attack on the Twin Towers.
Lynn Joseph has plenty of experience channelling the inner thoughts of young adults: Dancing in the Rain is her third YA novel, and she has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She was also born in Trinidad and so her writing is filled with the mellifluous rhythm characteristic of Caribbean accents. Here and there she drop snatches of the Dominican Republic’s primarily Spanish dialect, evocating a sense of warmth and intimacy without which the story’s landscape would have remained woefully bleak.
From these backgrounds she skilfully recreates the colourful world of the Caribbean and New York with a childlike optimism, bringing the setting to life with descriptive and linguistic flair. Storm clouds are a promise of new seashells for the tide pool, not just a harbinger of doom. Moving to another country is an exciting new adventure, not just a balm for grief.
Employing the emotions of Elizabeth and Brandt, Joseph aims straight for the heart; loss and loneliness balance on a knife’s edge with the bright-eyed optimism that youth inspires. The voice of each narrator manages to always pull us back just when we’ve gotten too close to the edge of misery.
Dancing in the Rain dances so well it is easy to relegate that misery to the stuff of nightmares, banished by the morning sun. Indeed Joseph does just that, resisting the urge to shy away from dark themes (stories of World War II concentration camps) and instead contrasting them with uplifting ones (fixing all your problems with horses and flan). The end result is an authentic portrayal of the remarkable resilience of children.
The young reader will be delighted by Brandt and Elizabeth’s grand schemes and will not be able to resist being drawn into their shared sorrow, a sorrow which will resonate deeply with anyone who has experienced a crisis. The older reader will appreciate the fresh perspective of the well-known disaster and the unexpected feelings of hope the story leaves behind.
Despite the shadow of catastrophe, the ultimate message of Dancing in the Rain (as evinced by the imagery of the novel’s title) is one of joy in the midst of unfavourable circumstances. Much like the glass jar of flowers and moonbeams that Brandt presents to his mother, the magic of this novel is easily overlooked but utterly precious. A treasure to be savoured and revisited whenever there is a need for hope in dark times.
Title: Dancing in the Rain
Author: Lynn Joseph
Publisher: Blouse & Skirt Books (July 2016)