It’s all here in Every Cloud, as you’d know if you were in Year 6; sleepovers, besties, dance classes, Area Sports Days, nail painting, parties-and-what-to-wear, parties-and-who’s-not-been-invited, and so on.
Then there are also a couple of questions everyone in Year 6 faces. Which school are you going to in the Autumn? And which of your friends will be there with you? It’s almost the end of the Summer term and Amy still hasn’t got answers. Her Dad’s a builder, but he’s not been able to work since he was injured in a car crash a few months ago. Mum’s taken a job in a Science Lab to make ends meet, but money’s still so tight they’ve had to move to a house which needs a lot of work. Amy hates it – she loved her old home. What’s more, they’re now in a different catchment area. She’d expected to go to Valley High with all her friends. Now she’s heading for Thornberry High where she’ll know no-one except Dana from her dance class, and Amy knows Dana doesn’t like her.
Amy and her family are at the centre of this everyday story of mostly middle-class folk. Amy’s Mum and Dad listen to her, talk to her honestly. When they get it wrong, they try harder. When they moved, they promised they’d get her into Valley High and they meant it; but Amy’s still only Number 7 on the waiting list. She’s got two younger brothers; Sam who’s crazy about wildlife and Maxi, who’s a normal hyper-active, sticky infant. Gran and Pops, an hour’s drive away, need Mum’s support too, especially since Gran had a fall and sprained her ankle. Now Gran can’t look after Pops, whose memory is wandering more and more. At times, he’s a domestic Health and Safety hazard; except when his memory is crystal clear and he’s excellent company.
While she’s staying with her grandparents, Amy meets Jay, whose shyness stems partially from his stammer – or, at least, the way others react to it. Jay’s an excellent sportsman and, it turns out, he’s also headed for Thornberry. Amy likes him. For a start, he’s sensible and, like Amy, he’s interested in other people – so he asks Sam about his trap cam for recording visiting wildlife and he enjoys playing with Maxi. When he meets Pops, he’s quick to manage the old man’s memory lapses during their chats when Jay’s learning to play shove ha’penny on Pops’ much-loved old board.
For a while, it might seem to young readers – possibly daunted by the book’s length – that the plot isn’t going anywhere. Ros Roberts does not indulge in the over-excited, over-witty dialogue or soap-opera melodramatics sometimes employed to energise plots in novels for this age group. Her story may seem to rely on a series of episodes rather than a developing narrative, but the different experiences of this long summer are changing the way Amy, and Jay, and Amy’s old primary school friends, see each other and themselves. Every Cloud offers a relationship between text and reader that builds slowly. It will be because they feel close to the everyday lives of Amy and her family – perhaps echoing their own experiences – that readers will come to care about where Amy ends up in September. It takes subtle storytelling to develop that kind of relationship.