Now that Cassie is in middle school, she faces all the attendant problems any eighth-grade girl might encounter: losing friends, finding new ones, dancing around the inevitable cliques, dealing with crushes on boys and problems at home. The difference between Cassie and most girls her age is that her problems at home began when her older brother enlisted in the military. Sef is going to Iraq, an act admired by his father and reviled by his mother, feared by Cassie and her older sister Van, and not understood by younger brother Jack, who has Down syndrome.
Cassie’s own anxiety about Sef is drowned by her mother’s almost catatonic dread, forcing Cassie to feel as if she must step in and save everybody, and leaving her with no outlet for her emotions. When an assignment in Social Studies class leads her to correspond with an Iraqi girl her own age (who calls herself Blue Sky), Cassie finds someone who will listen to her fears. In the process, Cassie also learns that, in comparison to Blue Sky’s encounters with daily bombs and missing family members, her life is not so unmanageable.
While everyone in Cassie’s family seems to hold their breath waiting for Sef’s return, the conclusion of the book is not the Hollywood welcome home we all hope for, but rather the peace they find in the waiting.
Award-winning author Mary Sullivan has written a novel for young readers that is both timely and timeless. Though the story is set during the Iraq war, the struggles that Cassie goes through are applicable to any era. Sullivan’s prose allows us to feel the bittersweet acceptance and love each family member has for the others, and we leave feeling the same for Cassie as she must feel for her brother: hope for her future well-being and the joy of living in the present.