Title: The Night Rainbow
Author: Claire King
No. of Pages: 272
Origins: Bloomsbury Publishing
Bottom Line: Beautiful and heart-wrenching
“It is summer in the south of France, and Pea and her little sister Margot spend their days running free, inventing games in the meadow behind their house. But Pea has worries beyond her five and a half years. Her father has died in an accident, and her mother has just lost a baby. Maman is English, already isolated in this small, foreign village, and in her compounded grief, she has retreated even further. Pea and Margot stay out of her way and try to make things better, but they can’t make Maman happy again.When Pea befriends Claude, a man who seems to love the meadow as she does, she wonders if he could be a new papa. But why do the other villagers view Claude with suspicion, and what secrets does his large empty house hold?”
Thoughts: Pea and Margot are lonely. Their beloved Papa has died in a tragic accident, and Maman is exhausted with grief and with the extra exertion that comes in a woman’s final few months of pregnancy. The girls do everything possible to help their mother – stay out of the house, clean up, make meals, and take care of themselves while Maman sleeps – but her despair seems to grow. Rescue from their own growing despondency comes in the form of a mysterious man. He looks scary but is not and soon provides them the love and friendship they so desperately crave – not to mention nourishment and supervision. However, Claude has his own secrets, and others do not take quite as kindly to his help as Pea and Margot do. As Maman nears the end of her pregnancy, the girls find themselves immersed in an adult feud that they not only cannot understand but which frightens them. Claire King’s The Night Rainbow explores the girls’ search for happiness and understanding in a world left bereft after Papa’s death and Maman’s ongoing depression.
The synopsis of The Night Rainbow sounds incredibly depressing, but the story itself is surprisingly upbeat and cheerful. Pea is a delightful narrator. Her narrative is simple and age-appropriate, as she shares Margot’s and her thought processes on how they can help Maman feel good enough to get out of bed and take care of them. At age five, her grasp of the adult side of things is severely limited, yet her observation skills are excellent and she shares more with a reader than she realizes or comprehends. The childish sense of hope and faith never wavers even through Pea’s darker moments, making this very tragic story something wonderful to experience.
Ms. King’s prose is absolutely gorgeous. She captures the spectacular setting with clear and precise descriptions that evoke all five senses, but she does so in such a way that makes it obvious that the descriptions are from Pea’s viewpoint. She imbues the most innocuous things with a twinge of fear while she styles other things, that which adults might find uncomfortable, with wonder and astonishment. This not only confirms Pea’s place in the story but adds a large-than-life element to the entire setting that fits perfectly with the story at large.
The Night Rainbow is not flashy nor is it all that exciting. It is, however, an excellent study about the grieving process and an absolutely beautiful story about the preciousness of a child’s unwavering love and loyalty. The plot reveals itself slowly, in delicate layers that enhance the emotional upheaval Pea feels throughout the story. Speaking of Pea, she charms readers with her childhood innocence and desperate yearning. As each puzzle pieces fall into place, readers get the chance to understand everything that Pea cannot and the full picture is truly agonizing in its depths. Yet, Pea’s dogged optimism in light of the ongoing tragedy makes her the type of child character with whom readers fall in love and The Night Rainbow the type of novel that will haunt readers long after finishing it.