I have a love/hate thing with books that deal with the death of a child's sibling/best friend/pet. Even more as a parent. They just make me sad, and even the best resolution doesn't change that the main character has lost someone close to them. I distinctly remember reading Where the Red Fern Grows and sobbing so hard I couldn't catch my breath. But these books often end up being some of my favorites because they of the way they reach right into your heart and attach themselves to your strings.
Such is the case with Umbrella Summer. Annie Richards's older brother Jared is killed when a hockey puck hits him in the chest. Turns out he had a rare heart condition, and now Annie deals with the knowledge that terrible things can happen when you least expect it. She is certain some horrific disease or accident is going to befall her, and she's obsessed with every scratch or bump, taking extraordinary precautions to prevent injury or illness.
Author Lisa Graff (The Thing About Georgie) handles a delicate subject with just the right amount of empathy, as Annie's obsession and grief affects her family and her friendships. Annie's fear is paralyzing -- she refuses to do anything that might be dangerous, and believes every ache and pain is a sign of her impending doom. As her friend tells her, she's no fun anymore. Just careful. Annie, in some respects, is refusing to live. Her parents are doing the same thing, in their own way.
Annie will break your heart as she learns to find her way back to the land of the living. A mysterious new neighbor and a very special book play a big part.
While the resolution doesn't change the fact that someone special has been lost, Umbrella Summer demonstrates that learning to live without those we lose is hard, but living in honor of them is what's important.
Parents should consider reading along and discussing with their kids -- especially if the kids are tender hearted. Appropriate for 9 and up.