Hello Readers! We’re now 1/3 of the way through the first month of the year – how are you doing? Are you getting back into the swing of work or school, or are you still vacationing? However you’re spending your days, I hope you find fulfillment in what you do.
For my first review of 2020 I’m talking about my favorite middle-grade novel from 2019. This book was published in March of 2019, but I read it in December. I expected to enjoy it, but I mostly chose to read it simply to fulfill a slot in my reading goals for the year. It turned out to be one of the best books I picked up all year, and I’ll tell you from the start that I highly recommend this book to everyone, regardless of whether you usually read middle-grade books.
About the Book
Title: Stand on the Sky
Author: Erin Bow
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Publication Date: March 5, 2019
Synopsis (from Goodreads): It goes against all tradition for Aisulu to train an eagle, for among the Kazakh nomads, only men can fly them. But everything changes when Aisulu discovers that her brother, Serik, has been concealing a bad limp that risks not just his future as the family’s leader, but his life too.
When her parents leave to seek a cure for Serik in a distant hospital, Aisulu finds herself living with her intimidating uncle and strange auntie — and secretly caring for an orphaned baby eagle. To save her brother and keep her family from having to leave their nomadic life behind forever, Aisulu must earn her eagle’s trust and fight for her right to soar. Along the way, she discovers that family are people who choose each other, home is a place you build, and hope is a thing with feathers.
Stand on the Sky is absolutely the kind of book that I would have loved to read when I was younger. It’s not just for middle schoolers, despite being a “middle-grade” novel. I loved this book just as much as an adult as I think I would have when I was younger. This is the kind of book I wish my junior high school library had carried, when all I could find to read were below-level books on topics I was not at all interested in or classics I was not yet prepared to read.
Aisulu is an incredible protagonist. She is strong, but she also acknowledges insecurity and potential weaknesses. She is logical most of the time but immature in the ways that nearly every twelve-year-old is. She is intensely connected to her immediate family and tries to do what is best for them, but she doesn’t hide what she wants and she keeps things going when her parents and sick brother abruptly and indefinitely leave for a hospital far away. In sum, she is the kind of character that I want my own children to read about: a wonderful blend of realistic and extraordinary.
The setting, too, is impressive. I have never read a book set in Kazakhstan, and know next to nothing about the geography or people who live there. The beautiful writing in Stand on the Sky is a moving and heartfelt introduction. As a preteen, Aisulu is still figuring out herself and how life works, and she is also learning about her culture and family. The reader learns as she learns. Knowledge is presented organically, not abruptly and not presented as a lecture. I greatly enjoyed learning about Aisulu’s family in this way.
I honestly have nothing bad to say about this book. At a stretch, I could mention that some of the humor is not actually funny, but I think for the most part it probably would be to a twelve year old. Stand on the Sky tells a story that is at the same time incredibly unique (at least in my Western context) and the same as every other story – aren’t we all always still finding ourselves, and learning where we fit in our world? We may not all train eagles, milk yaks, or live in a nomadic family, but as humans we face many of the same struggles in different ways.
Who is your favorite middle-grade hero or heroine? There are a lot of good ones I have read about, and Aisulu definitely joins their ranks in my mind.
Until the next chapter,