FLOWERS IN THE SKY isn't the kind of book I'd usually be drawn to, but I'm so glad I read it. I loved so many things about it. First of all, the setting (both the seaside town of Samana in the Dominican Republic and the neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City) come to vivid life on the page. I now have a burning desire to visit Samana myself just to see the artists lined up on the boardwalk by the sea. Ms. Joseph weaves gorgeous sensory details all throughout her narrative which serve to bring the reader fully into the world of the story.
The characters each feel unique and fully fleshed-out as well. Readers will immediately connect with Nina and her struggle with finding a new way to be herself after being transplanted from everything she's ever known and loved. Ms. Joseph also does a masterful job of exploring the excitement and confusion of first love as well as the painfully gained wisdom of learning to see one's family members for who they really are instead of who we've built them up to be. Nina's journey from flower girl in Samana to emerging young woman in Washington Heights is compelling and feels absolutely authentic.
The story itself is written in clean prose and is an easy, fast read. The few mentions of more mature content (drug dealers, theft) are brushed over quickly with no violence or glorification of crime. This is a story that both mature YA readers and younger readers just approaching the YA genre could both enjoy.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Because Nina is our narrator, we're left to learn the pieces of the story (and the mystery surrounding her brother and the boy she's starting to love) in bits and pieces as she learns it. This didn't bother me, but there were times when I was frustrated that Nina never came out and just asked her brother or Luis for the truth. However, I think a lot of that reluctance had to do with the culture Nina was raised in, and that would make for an excellent discussion question in a reading group or classroom setting.
FLOWERS IN THE SKY is a compelling story full of beauty, heartbreak, and flashes of wisdom. I highly recommend it.