Monday, March 14, 2016

MMGM: Close to the Wind

This was a book I didn’t plan to like. I’d heard bad reviews, saying that the fact that it wasn’t set in a particular country didn’t ground it. As I don't usually enjoy books without a specific setting, I thought it wouldn't be for me.

But there was something about this story that drew me. Maybe it was the graphic cover or that the unnamed country sounded a bit like Eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union—and I am sucker for books about those places. Though I never left at a time of war, leaving  Ukraine for a family emergency on short notice took a bit of verbal acrobatics. So, I could relate to Marek’s story—the insecurity, the intensity of not knowing if you’ll get on that boat (or in my case, a plane).

This is a suspenseful book, and it pulls at your emotions—even if a setting is never named.

Synopsis (from Amazon):

A simple, resonant, and utterly heart-shattering debut about greed, love, trust and what matters most when your world falls apart.

A war-torn country . . . only one way out.

Ten-year-old Malik's world is falling apart. Soldiers have invaded town, and his mother is missing, leaving Malik with his grandfather, Papa. Along with a thousand other refugees, their hope for escape to a new life lies in gaining passage aboard one ship--but the demand for tickets is high, and so is the cost. Can they make it on? And will they find Mama before the ship departs? When things don't go as planned, Malik must summon all of his courage and resourcefulness to survive.

A heart-wrenching and suspenseful story of sacrifice and resilience, Close to the Wind confronts the realities of war in a timeless and accessible way.

What I loved about this book:

1. A sympathetic main character. In many ways, Malik seemed younger than most American kids his age, but then, in others, he did not. I immediately felt for him, because of his missing mother and the obvious love they had for each other. He’s not sarcastic, he feels deeply, and he can outsmart villainous grown-ups. He’s a protagonist you won’t soon forget.

2. The relationship between Malik and his grandfather. This on so many levels reminded me of the film Life is Beautiful, although perhaps young readers won’t see the motives behind the grandpa’s behavior as much as I did. His self-sacrificing nature and his deep love for the boy—unforgettable.

3. Simple language. One thing that really struck me about this novel was how simple the language is. No fancy flourishes, very straightforward, not much description. This is not surprising, considering the author is a former screenwriter. But this very direct style fit the story well.

4. An impressive arc. Both the character and the story arc were so satisfying in this novel.  It was interesting to see how a magic trick introduced subtly at the beginning reappears in the climax.

5. An interesting villain. Although Malik had many obstacles, not all of them people, the main villain in the story was formidable and complex in his own right. The story wouldn’t have been so satisfying without him.

If you like books about war-torn countries, refuges, and family relationships, this is the book for you. Look past the unknown country and enjoy this book for what it is: a simple, sparse, and suspenseful story of a boy’s escape from a war-ravaged country.

What do you think about books with unnamed settings? Does it add or take away from the story for you?

(This post contains an affiliate link.)

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog. 


  1. Glad you didn't listen to the reviews and picked this one up. Not sure I would have but this sounds like a fantastic story.

  2. Unnamed settings don't bother me. As long as it feels "real" to me as a reader, I'm good.

  3. PAX is another book with an unknown war torn setting. As long as the story is good not having a named setting is not a problem. Thanks for your thoughts on this one. I'll be taking a look when my reading schedule allows.

  4. I think an unnamed setting is better because then readers from many countries can identify with it.

  5. Setting sometimes takes on the role of a character. But an unnamed country isn't an obstacle if it's richly drawn. I found myself thinking about ISIS and the refugees as I read your review. For so many kids, they mightn't even know *where* they're at. I will look for this book. Thank you for your helpful reviews.

  6. Intriguing. I usually also prefer a specific setting, the more specific the better. Yet I remember loving a book called NORTH TO FREEDOM by Anne Holm when I was in fifth grade. And the author never tells you what country David escapes from to head north. And I also recently read BEL CANTO, an adult novel by Ann Patchett which takes place in an unnamed South American country. And it didn't bother me too much. I think if it's described well, it works.

  7. Sound like a good read! Thanks!

  8. Thank you for all the great recs of books that don't have specific settings! Adding these to my reading list!

  9. It sounds like a good book. Thanks for the review! It's always nice to pick up a book, despite the reviews, and enjoy it.

  10. Sounds very interesting! I hadn't heard of it, but will look for it now.

  11. OK, that really does sound interesting.

  12. I am okay with an unnamed setting I think- based on the synopsis anyway. :) This sounds like a book I will really get into. I am already curious about the main character and the conflict. Great review and thanks for sharing. :)

  13. I hadn't heard of this one. I really like the cover as well. Thanks for telling me about this book. I will check it out.