How’s the weather at your place right now? Over here in Penang, Malaysia, it’s raining and windy, just the type of weather that I love at night when I’m asleep or reading. Actually, I’ve always yearned for such weather because it’s so nice to be indoors, lazing on the couch with a good book.
After reading The Blue Umbrella, you’ll probably never look at weather or an umbrella the same way again. The entire story is centred on weather though it’s not as boring as small weather talk.
Ten-year-old Zac Sparks has just lost his mother. Apparently she died after being struck by lightning. Zac does not know who or where his father was and thought he had no other living relatives. But on the day of his mother’s funeral, two “aunties” appeared and fussed over him.
When the other mourners left, Auntie Esmeralda and Auntie Pris changed their tune. They bundled him up in their car and brought him back to their house in Five Corners. They refused to call him by his name and only addressed him as ‘Boy’. He was also forced to act as waiter at their birthday party and was not given any meals.
At the aunties’ house, he meets Butler, a very small and old man who works as a butler for the aunties. Butler tells Zac that the aunties are everybody’s aunties, which is weird. They also seem to hold some kind of authority over the other inhabitants of Five Corners. They are very, very old and Zac is curious over how old they really are.
Zac also meets Chelsea, a girl who doesn’t talk but is one of the few people who is pleasant with him. He befriends her brother Ches, an expert on weather. Zac also meets a blind balloon seller, Eldy who also doesn’t speak even though Zac thought he had a conversation with him. How, he wasn’t sure. Zac then gets to know about O, the “town drunk” who sings beautifully but is never seen.
The person who fascinates Zac the most is Sky Porter. Mr Porter owns Porter’s General Store which people say is haunted. Every morning through his bedroom window, Zac would watch Mr Porter welcome in the new day. Mr Porter would just stand with his umbrella on his arm, in front of his store as the day begins. Zac wonders what it’d be like to meet Mr Porter whom the Aunties extremely dislike.
When he finally does meet him and is offered a job at the store, Zac felt that he has met somebody that he could trust. But Zac walks around feeling troubled because he has to steal something from Mr Porter to give to Dada, a terrifying old man who happens to be the Aunties’ father. As long as he does not steal it, the Aunties would whack him with their beloved, mysterious cane.
If only some parts weren’t included or it wouldn’t be a 425-page book. I felt sorry for Zac who has just lost his mother and was forced to be a slave to horrible characters like the Aunties. It’s quite a lot for a 10-year-old to endure. No wonder he opened up to Sky Porter the way he did. I really liked this Porter character. He sounds like a pleasant enough fellow that it’s hard to believe most of the people in town stayed away from him.
What’s attractive about the book is the colourful cover which shows Porter standing in the doorway of his store. The story is okay for me and it is different from other fantasy novels. I liked how the author, Mike Mason could spin a simple theme such as weather into a welcoming read like this. I also liked the various characters in the novel. Each of them had their own striking individuality!
You can check out the interview with Mike Mason at the end of the book. There’s also a glossary for you to refer to should you not know the meaning of certain words found in the story. This is also Mason’s first novel.
***Thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a copy of this book to review.