Up on Cloud Nine

Up on Cloud Nine

5.0 3
by Anne Fine

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Ian’s best friend, Stolly, is up on cloud nine. He’s in the hospital, unconscious, and hooked up to machines. The question Ian is trying to answer is: How did Stolly end up there?

In a way, Stolly’s always been on cloud nine, living life by his own rules and making those rules up as he goes along. His parents’ careers have them… See more details below


Ian’s best friend, Stolly, is up on cloud nine. He’s in the hospital, unconscious, and hooked up to machines. The question Ian is trying to answer is: How did Stolly end up there?

In a way, Stolly’s always been on cloud nine, living life by his own rules and making those rules up as he goes along. His parents’ careers have them constantly rushing around, so Ian’s family has all but adopted Stolly. That’s why it’s up to Ian to figure out what happened to his best friend. But once the pieces start coming together, the answer doesn’t seem to make any sense.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As the boy narrator sits at the hospital bedside of his unconscious friend who has sustained a concussion, he pieces together anecdotes of their shared times, and the darker side of his friend's life starts to emerge. PW wrote in a starred review, "The author mixes equal measures of humor and poignancy into this novel about friendship between two very different yet inseparable boys." Ages 10-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Ian's best friend, Stolly, is in the hospital—again. In a coma, he is fighting for his life—again. While Ian observes the turmoil that everyone is going through, he begins to wonder how Stolly got into this mess. Stolly's mother, a famous designer, is always away on fashion shoots, and his father, an important judge, is often in chambers until well after midnight, leaving Stolly in the care of Ian's family. Ian decides that he can sort out how Stolly got in this predicament by writing about their lives. Ian's journalistic bent and his remembrances of their friendship bring Ian to conclude without doubt that Stolly tried to kill himself. As parents and nurses skitter in and out, Ian confronts a newly awakened Stolly, eliciting a promise from him to read his own life story and face up to his feelings. Fine provides readers a glimpse of a family that is dysfunctional because of the success of the parents. The fact that they, for the most part, ignore their bright, adventurous son makes the pain Ian's family goes through on Stolly's part even more poignant. Stolly's story is a warning for anyone who knows one of those bright and active teens who skillfully hide painful depression. Ian's stories of the friends' exploits will appeal to those adventure-loving readers, but this book is more of a character study for the thoughtful reader. Students will not flock to this book, but placed in the proper hands, it could make a difference. 2002, Random House, 144p,
— Lynn Evarts
Children's Literature
The story begins in a hospital room with two young friends. One is bandaged and unconscious while the other is keeping a watchful bedside vigil. Told through the eyes of Ian with the successful use of childhood flashbacks, the plot leads the reader through many strange twists and turns of an unusual friendship between two very different boys. This isn't the first time that Stolly's character shows quirks—his inability to "see things in the round" has gotten him into trouble. But now "Stol has sailed too close to death" and Ian feels the gravity of the situation. "He might as well be waiting for his funeral. . . . He's just a slab of dead meat on a hospital bed." Fine confirms her qualifications as Children's Laureate of Great Britain and repeat winner of England's highest literary award, the Carnegie Medal. She ably tackles the tortures of a boy who often gets that "weird feeling you're always getting that you're standing outside yourself, watching your own body get on with life without you." Fine successfully allows the reader to share Ian's deeper appreciation of a friend whose interpretation of life strays from the norm. "After all, there's no point being sensible all your life if all you do with the life you've kept safe is to keep being sensible." The account is both amusing and troubling, but it holds the reader's attention throughout. It is a particularly valuable tool in the classroom for discussing acceptance of others' peculiarities. 2003, Dell Yearling/Random House, Ages 8 to 10.
— Francine Thomas
Stuart Oliver's father is in court, as usual; his mother is in Nicaragua on a photo shoot; and he, Ian's best friend, Stolly, is in the hospital, hooked up to machines, unconscious. Ian groaned, "Not again," when he heard that Stolly was at Western General. Stolly was constantly having accidents and had done some strange things in the past, but this time he was lying in the hospital bed, looking so distant and lifeless, like he was on cloud nine. Actually, Stolly had always been up on cloud nine—living by his own rules and making life up as he goes. Ian can think back to some zany times with Stolly, like when he insisted that a devil lived on his shoulder but was so quick that every time he moved his head to see it, the devil jumped to the other shoulder or the time when Stolly wrote a thank you letter to his aunts telling them exactly what happened at his house on Christmas day. Even at school, he was infamous for shooting "well past the colorful fiblets into great raging...fantasies." Ian was always the practical, predictable one. He was the one who caught Stolly by the coat when it looked like he would jump off of the viaduct. It is Ian's mother who taught Stolly how to tie his shoes, and it is his house where Stolly spent most of his time. But now, all Ian can do is sit by Stolly's bedside and wait. To pass the time, he decides to write Stolly's life story; a story that attempts to put together the pieces of Stolly's latest mishap. Through Ian's stories and the glimpses of the hospital room, Stolly comes alive as a vibrant, exciting, truly unique child who questions everything around him and marches to his own beat. Stolly is brutally honest, always forcing Ian to look outside of hisexperience and stretch his imagination farther than he had before. Stolly is also quite sensitive and willing to risk humiliation to do what he believes is good. Through his stories, Ian demonstrates how to be a good friend to Stolly and how true friendship can be Stolly's saving grace. A poignant story, mixed with wit and humor, Up on Cloud Nine, by Anne Fine, the author of the book on which the movie Mrs. Doubtfire was based, portrays a realistic struggle of a two children dealing with the imperfections and confusions of life. Stolly is an endearing, quirky character, and Ian demonstrates that the only thing that can save Stolly from himself is true, selfless friendship. 2002, Delacorte,
— Kara Fondse Van Drie
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Fine offers readers another memorable character in Stol, short for Stuart Oliver. With both of his parents occupied with their careers, his friend Ian and Ian's parents have taken the boy into their hearts and home. The opening scene takes place in a hospital where Stol lies in a coma after falling, or possibly jumping, from a third-story window. Ian watches his buddy and surveys his memory for clues as to how the incident could have happened, thinking and writing about their times together. Perfectly happy one minute and desperately uncertain that life is worth continuing the next, Stol is a fascinating explosion of abilities and worldviews. His philosophical viewpoint and way of life are the antithesis of Ian's solid practicality, and he expresses feelings that others are afraid to say. Needing one another, the boys share a friendship that is revealed on every page right to the end. All of Fine's characters leap to life, even Stol's absent and self-centered mother. The effectiveness and morality of Ian's interference with the authorities in convincing them that Stol's act was not a suicide attempt are left open and are sure to spark discussion opportunities for readers. Completely absorbing, this book is a gift to those who know and love others who are different.-Carol A. Edwards, Sonoma County Library, Santa Rosa, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
England's Children's Laureate (Bad Dreams, 2000, etc.) again exercises her unsurpassed gift for memorable, complex character studies. Stolly Oliver lies in a coma, having taken a plunge from an upper story window. At his bedside sit not his often-absent parents (though they're on their way), but Ian Paramour and his smart, loving, adoptive parents, all three of whom have spent so much time caring for Stolly over the years that he's as much a member of their family as his own. More than half convinced that Stolly jumped, Ian works out his anger by reflecting on their life together: his mix of fearlessness and stark vulnerability; the ghastly, wildly inventive horror stories Stolly could make up at the drop of a hat; the left turns his logic often took; his refusal to hide feelings, or to stop challenging authority; his array of little foibles-as Ian puts it, his teachers "all said he had a great future ahead of him, if he could stay alive and learn to tie his laces." With brilliant use of the telling phrase or between-the-lines insight, often delivered with masterful, side-splitting comic timing, Fine brings not just Stolly but every character here to life, and gives them all redeeming qualities-even Stolly's jet-set, fashion-designer mother, though she comes in for lengthy, merciless lampooning. By the time Stolly wakes up, little the worse for wear (beyond a few broken bones), the author has brought readers so close to him and to those who love him that the question of whether he fell by accident or not has become, not irrelevant, but unimportant. It's a triumphant portrait of a young person marching to a beat all his own-but not marching alone. (Fiction. 11-13)
From the Publisher
“[Anne Fine] produces a subtle and absorbing tale.”—Publishers Weekly

“England’s Children’s Laureate again exercises her unsurpassed gift for memorable, complex character studies.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“Fine outdoes herself here.”—The Horn Book Magazine, Starred

“Completely absorbing.”—School Library Journal, Starred

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Random House
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Age Range:
10 Years

Read an Excerpt

Stol's Laid Out . . .

Stol's laid out on this strange bed-trolley thing. He might as well be waiting for his funeral. There's no blood in his face. No twitching or rolling. He's just a slab of dead meat on a hospital bed. I'm pretending I can't see the tube going in and the tube coming out. Or hear the pumping noises, and the occasional shlup!, like the sheep getting squashed by the hay bales in Farm Freak!

Mum hurries in. "So where's his dad?"

"On his way. One of his junior barristers phoned to say he was just going through to the judge, to explain."

Mum took a look at Stol, just lying there. Flat out. Not even breathing, so far as I could see. You could tell what she was thinking.

Not everyone would say it, though.

"Well, his dad's the last person we need."

She'll not forget the time that Mr. Oliver showed up in Casualty so furious at being called out of court, he practically started dishing out malpractice suits to all the doctors who'd spent the last two hours saving his son's life. And then he'd turned on me, as if it were my fault for suggesting we play Pirate Attack! in the first place. How was I supposed to know Stol would get so overexcited he'd start yo-ho-ho-ing and swigging that stuff with the skull and the crossbones? Good thing I hadn't said a word about the pathetic knots he'd used to truss me up for the gangplank. If I hadn't moved so fast, he'd have been in the mortuary.

"No, probably best off without Franklin."

Mum grabbed the phone she'd left me earlier and took off down the ward. I didn't bother following to try to listen. No one gets straight through to Mr. Oliver anyway. He's far too important. But even in emergencies Mum prefers things the way they are. If she can leave her message with Jeanine, his secretary, quickly enough, she can get off the phone before Franklin snatches it and starts all his arguing.

The nurse was bending over Stol when Mum came back.

"I told Jeanine to stop him canceling. After all, nothing's happening." Suddenly superstitious, she went pale and crossed her fingers. So did I, in my pocket, and together we stared at Stolly till the nurse moved off and Mum went on, "I told her to tell Franklin we'll stay here till he's out of court."

We know what "out of court" means. Back to chambers for discussions that might go on till midnight, or even later if the case isn't going well. But maybe this time, what with Stol having done for himself so comprehensively brilliantly, his dad will make the effort to get away sooner.

"What about . . . ?"

What with the nurse still being well within earshot, Mum didn't finish, as she does usually, ". . . his daffy mum." So I just answered.

"On a shoot. In the jungle."

"The jungle?"


"I'm not sure Nicaragua's jungle." But clearly even Mum had grasped this was no time for elementary geography. To tell the truth, though, she did not look sorry. Esme Oliver is a menace in a sickroom. She is the sort of person who would unthinkingly lift off your sterile dressing to wipe off her nail polish. Or fetch out her hair spray in a ward of asthmatics.

"But is she on her way back?"

"No, not yet. They can't find her."

"Can't find her? Is she lost?"

"No," I explain. "It's just that her assistant can't raise a signal. You see, she and the photographer have taken the models where there are no land lines in order to get that absolutely authentic sense of lost-in-the-rain-forest chic to launch her new range of three-tiered mock-python and marabou waterproo--"

Normally Mum adores this sort of stuff. She says my bulletins from the World of Esme have been one of the principal compensations for feeding Stolly pretty well every sensible meal he's ever eaten, checking his hair for nits whenever she does mine, and having him sleep over practically every other night, while trying to make sure he keeps up with his homework.

But this time, Stol's too white, too still. She cuts me off.

"Right," she says. "You keep him going till I get back from seeing the doctor."

What does she mean, "keep him going"? But I don't argue. I just trail her to the door. "The doctors won't talk to you," I warn her. "I asked a nurse, and she said if I wasn't family, she couldn't tell me anything."

"So I'll say that I'm family."

I panicked. "But what if they ask you to make a decision?"

"Well," she said. "If they ask me which ice cream he's going to want for his supper, I'll tell them toffee pecan. And if they want a decision about how late he ought to be allowed to stay up watching telly, I'm going to be quite tough and insist it's before ten."

Brave stab. But Stol has sailed too close to death and I can't smile.

We both turn back to look at him. "For pity's sake!" says Mum. "I'll just find out what's what. And if there are any decisions to be made, I'll get back to Franklin. The man's supposed to be one of the cleverest barristers in Britain, isn't he? He can surely read a note pushed under his nose in the middle of a court case. Should we switch off your dear son's life support? Tick Yes or No."

But simply joking about it has unnerved her worse. She has to come back to lay her hand against his cheek. "Oh, Stolly! Stolly! What a little fool you are!"

Back at the door, she tells me sharply, "You look after him!"

This time, I have to ask. "What does that mean?"

"You know. Sit close. And concentrate. Will him back."

"Will him?"

Now I'm unnerved as well, because it sounds so much like something from the World of Esme.

"That's right. Stay close. Don't let them send you off to the coffee shop or anything. I'll bring you back something to eat. Just sit here and remember he's your friend. Stick with him."

Strange. (For my mum.)

And she has slid away, round next door's curtain.

I know her. I sat very quietly, and, sure enough, I heard the nose-blow and the little sniffle. And the deep tranquillizing breaths she had to take before she could set her face and go and ask whoever she could find what might be happening in Stol's flat silence.

From the Hardcover edition.

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