Soto, Gary. Partly Cloudy: Poems of Love and Longing. New York: Harcourt, 2009. ISBN 9780152063016
Partly Cloudy is a collection of love poems split into two viewpoints, that of a girl for the first half (titled “A Girl’s Tears, Her Songs”) and a boy for the second (“A Boy’s Body, His Words”) that would most likely appeal to middle school students. A majority of the poems are free verse. While the subtitle, Poems of Love and Longing may seem to appeal more towards girls, the actual poems are universal (and not just because half are from a boy’s perspective).
Some poems are light, others silly, and yet others in that angsty-teenager area. That being said, none of them are extremely difficult to read. Most of the poems are straightforward (a tree is a tree, not a symbol of something else).
There is another way the poems in Partly Cloudy are universal, there is a surprising lack of cultural markers. For example, there is one poem with Spanish, “Barriers,” that clearly shows the potential difficulties of love between cultures, but in this case, the other culture is Japanese. There are several poems that speak of being poor, and while that could be a cultural marker there is no real way to say which culture it is portraying. In “Imagination” the boy narrating mentions he has a girl on the other side of town that he has to “skateboard thirty-three blocks,/Sixteen of which I’ll be terrorized/By pit bulls and thugs lurking/Like vultures on car fenders.” (81) While this clearly gives a picture of the boy and his relationship, it doesn’t necessarily denote a particular culture.
If anything, Partly Cloudy is a mirror. The reader will understand and interpret what is familiar into the spaces left in the slightly vague language.
When she said no,
I took my loneliness to the river,
Frozen only a month ago.
Sunlight lit the first blossoms of spring
And made early March appear beautiful.
But it wasn’t for me.
I stared at the slow cargo of blossoms,
And the ripples that hurried them along.
I kicked sand that sprayed like salt,
And sighed a dozen times.
I noticed driftwood that resembled arms
And legs. That’s how I felt,
Lifeless, in other words.
You may laugh, but I bent over the river,
Adding to that ancient flow,
A young man’s sadness when a girl says no.
Since this poem discusses a different sort of loss (he was never actually with the girl), it would be interesting to encourage teens to write a similar poem, not necessarily about missing out on the guy or girl, but when something you expect to happen doesn’t. Another option is to encourage the teens to find a fallacy (like the driftwood in the poem, or having a bad day only to realize it’s raining outside) and write about it.
Paterson Award for Sustained Excellence in Literature for Young People—2009
Booklist—“ In rapid, clear free verse, young teens, both girls and boys, speak about falling in love the jealousy, loneliness, and hurt of rejection and breaking up, as well as the romantic bliss. The speakers are as varied as their hairdos, which include curls, straight locks, Afros, or green spikes; and the contemporary settings are diverse, too.”
Kirkus—“ The deceptively simple poems examine love from many angles in verses that are by turns funny and poignant.”
Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. January 2009. (Vol.77, No.2). Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9780152063016
Rochman, Hazel. Booklist. February 2009. (Vol. 105, No. 12). Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9780152063016