age range: 8-12
genre: contemporary fiction
setting: New York City
Lindsey Stoddard’s website
★ This touching middle grade novel addresses the heartache of loss while also providing an insightful, accessible introduction to privilege, homelessness, and gentrification. Honest, gut-wrenching, and hopeful, this is a story about letting people in and discovering you’re a part of something larger.
— School Library Journal, starred review
★ Timely, well-integrated themes, a vibrant setting, and well-drawn, likable characters make this a winner.
— Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Please tell us about your book.
RIGHT AS RAIN is the story of Rain Andrews and her family as they go through the first year of grief after her big brother’s death. Her dad has trouble leaving the bedroom and her mom is trying to push the family forward toward a fresh start, so she gets a new job and rushes the family from their home in Vermont all the way to the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City. Through the novel, Rain is trying to keep her family together, understand her place in a quickly-changing Dominican neighborhood where she feels out of place, and hold the secret that makes her feel guilty, the secret that only she knows about that night, the night that her big brother died.
What inspired you to write this story?
Like all of my stories, Rain came to me first as just a voice. I could hear her, the way she talked and how she sounded. Before anything else, I knew that she loved numbers and patterns and counting and research and was a thoughtful, emotionally strong kid. Her story came in pieces, some from emotions I felt when I was her age growing up in Vermont, and some from emotions I felt when I first moved to the Washington Heights neighborhood of NYC after college and lived there for twelve years.
What are some special challenges associated with writing middle grade?
When I’m writing fiction for middle grade readers, I focus on emotions I remember feeling intensely during those years of my own life and use those to write an honest fictional character. For my first novel, JUST LIKE JACKIE, I used a moment when I was eight that made me angry. A neighborhood boy hit a robin’s nest of eggs out of my backyard tree with his whiffle ball bat, and I had been anxiously waiting for those eggs to hatch into little birds. That event doesn’t show up in JUST LIKE JACKIE, but the anger that Robbie feels toward school bully, Alex, is drawn from the anger I felt toward that neighborhood boy. My own grandfather did have Alzheimer’s and when I was Robbie’s age I remember feeling sad and uncomfortable and wishing I could help him more. He wasn’t my caregiver, though. Instead of focusing on what happened to me, I used the emotions I felt to write Robbie’s character.
I used the same process for RIGHT AS RAIN—focused on real emotions from my childhood, and used them to create a fictional character.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
There are lots of topics that make RIGHT AS RAIN great for a classroom: grief, transitions, privilege and gentrification, homelessness, teamwork, community, differences, etc. One thing that I learned while teaching middle school English for ten years (in Washington Heights) was that kids that age feel things big. They are sensitive and have a great interest in justice and what’s fair and right. They are emotional and capable of great empathy if given the opportunity. Books like RIGHT AS RAIN and so many other wonderful titles that have been published in the last few years are great emotional guides for any class.