Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green by Helen Phillips: Cliches At Every Corner Just Doesn’t Cut It

Mad’s dad is the Bird Guy. He’ll go anywhere to study birds. So when he’s offered a bird-tracking job in Central America, his bags are packed and he’s jungle bound.

But going bird tracking in the jungle and disappearing completely are very different things, and when the Very Strange and Incredibly Creepy Letter arrives, Mad can’t shake the terrible feeling that her father is in trouble.

Roo, Mad’s younger sister, is convinced that the letter is a coded message. And their mom is worried, because the letter doesn’t sound like Dad at all. But Mad is sure it’s a sign of something sinister.

The only way to get to the bottom of it is to go to Lava Bird Volcano and find their dad themselves. Though they never could have imagined what they’re about to discover.

I’m just going to say right here and now that the target audience for this book will probably enjoy it. 

I just couldn’t find myself liking it though.

  • Both the heroines did bad things with no consequences.
  • The parents were gone (as usual).
  • The main characters were stereotypical.

It wasn’t bad enough that the main characters cheated, lied, hid and broke promises, but to add on to that–no one ever corrected them. They didn’t get punished either. Not only that, but I really didn’t like the way that they went about things. At the beginning of this story, when I saw that Roo was being a bold brat and Mad was being a shy, nervous wreak, I was glad because I thought that there was room for morals. That Phillips could take the characters she had created and transform them before the faces of her readers to show them good themes and elements and how a person can grow. Unfortunately, Phillips didn’t take advantage of the situation she had put her characters in and abandoned them to my rants.

Eventually, Mad does find some small space where she begins to grow but for me, it just came too late in the book.

And seriously? The parents are gone once again? One thing I admire about MG books where the parents aren’t gone is that the authors have to be clever enough to work around or with the adults. Shoving the parents out of the picture is one mediocre, overused way to make sure your characters don’t have to deal with anything like that. Personally, I feel that a character that is able to work around the situations thrown at them–big or small–demonstrates what makes that character themselves. Without that, I just felt like Roo and Mad lost any chance they had of impressing themselves upon me.

Besides, the reason why the adults were gone was in no way mysterious or clever or even typical. It was really because of the choices they made and things that they did.

Seriously? Roo’s the brazen one and Mad’s the meek one? Evil people get punished in the end? Despite being brainwashed, the family still strangely loves each other suddenly?

*sigh* Cliches and wishful thinking at every corner does not cut it.

On the bright side of things, I did enjoy the way that Phillips demonstrated the environment and how it’s important as well as the love between the sisters. Formatting was done well and I had fun with the idea of some of the things used here, but overall–the book was a disappointment. The writing was for fairly young MG students, so even higher elementary level kids can enjoy it and I don’t think they’ll care about a lot of the things I noted. But for me, HERE WHERE THE SUNBEAMS ARE GREEN wasn’t enough. 1.5 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 304

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