By Jean Patrick
Republic Book Columnist
Each time Siria hears a siren, she sneaks down her apartment building’s fire escape and chases the trucks. Siria’s pop is a fireman.
“Winter Sky,” by Patricia Reilly Giff, follows 11-year-old Siria from late December to her birthday in January. Despite the backdrop, Siria’s worries are heavy.
“Take care of Pop,” she imagines her mother saying.
Arson is also on her mind. Why is the shed smoking? Who set the fire in the old movie theater that nearly killed a stray dog? And what about the ripped piece of cloth from a familiar jacket?
The clues seem to lead to her best friend, Douglas — the boy she wants as a brother.
When Siria accuses Douglas of setting the fires, their friendship crumbles. For a while the stray dog seems to fill the need for companionship. But even though she sneaks him into her apartment and gives him a bath, there’s not much hope of keeping him.
Although Siria’s life is dark and worried, she does have strong anchors. Mimi, her sitter, loves her. Izzy, another firefighter, knows firsthand what it’s like to grow up with a firefighting father.
Siria also clings to her mother’s love of stars. Although her mother died years ago, Siria knows that she was named for Sirius, the bright star that rises each January.
Although “Winter Sky” is structured around the mystery of the arson, the novel is primarily a story of Siria’s yearning for family. Although there are no easy answers, author Patricia Reilly Giff shows the strengthening of the ties of the people who love her.
Giff also shows this to reader through brief stories of the constellations. Between chapters, she presents the legends of Orion, Canis major, Canis minor, and the twins, Castor and Pollux.
“Winter Sky” is more serious than Giff’s recent Zigzag Kids series. However, Giff continues to show readers the value of truth, hope and friendship.
“Winter Sky.” By Patricia Reilly Giff. Random House, 2013, 160 pp.