Listening for Lucca: summery, sinister, dreamy, mysterious. Siena's family moves to a house on the beach in Maine, hoping the change will encourage Siena's little brother Lucca to start speaking. Siena welcomes the move. In Brooklyn, she has developed the reputation for being weird because she sometimes sees things that are not there.
Siena doesn't exactly see ghosts. She sees the past. She'll be looking at a park or a street or a subway station and suddenly, she'll see it as it was 100 years ago, rather than the way it looks today.
She finds these visions terrifying because she can't control them, predict them, or even talk about them. At first I thought they were a metaphor for trauma, but it's subtler than that. It's like Siena has realized that, despite what parents say, bad things can happen at any moment, and she wonders how people live with such uncertainty. It reminded me of how watching a scary news story could really upset me as a child, and I appreciated how the author dealt with this theme.
When Siena's family arrives in Maine, Siena recognizes their new house from her dreams. Soon she becomes fascinated with a brother and sister who lived in the house in the 1940s. She finds ways of extending her visions of the past, believing that if she can understand what happened to the siblings, she might understand what is happening with her brother.
Siena's visions of the past are intertwined with a well developed real life plot as well. Siena is very thirteen. She plays a role in parenting her brother, analyzes her interactions with kids her age, and craves her parents' attention at the same time as she withholds information from them.
Although the character development is strong, I did wonder about Siena's friend Sam. I loved the scenes at his family's store, but I never got why he was into Siena. Perhaps because she seems a little dark and mysterious? We're seeing things through Siena's eyes, so maybe she wondered herself. He seemed a little too-good-to-be-true for a 13-year-old boy. But I did like how Siena told him a little about her visions and instead of believing in her magical journey, he worried she might kill herself.
This book operates according to a kind of dream logic. The present mirrors the past, but not perfectly, and I wasn't sure how they were going to work together to produce a satisfying conclusion. So the good thing here is that I couldn't figure the plot out ahead of time. The bad thing is that I'm not sure it really made sense. Without giving anything away, there's an object that passes through past and present very conveniently, like a dream coming to life.
However, the mood of the book makes this seem possible. Siena's visions are always unpredictable and dream-like and the problems people in the book have are mostly psychological. The problems are with the way people see things, not the way they are. So it works for the solution to be more symbolic than actual, like Dumbo needing a feather to fly.
Certainly, this is my favorite kind of magic--not the kind with elaborate rules and prophesies and arch villains and new worlds. No, this is the kind of small-scale, inexplicable magic that makes small toys come to life or transports a single child to another time. It's the kind of E. L. Konigsburg, Margaret Mahy, Zilpha Keatley Snyder magic that could almost happen to you.
So I loved the book. It was perfectly tailored to the middle of August, and one of the best middle grade books I've read this year.