Book review: Not the Only Sky by Alyssa Warren

27 Apr

not only the sky‘Wait. Patient. Now. Not long. Good girl. Wait here. Brave girl. Think of it as a vacation.’ ‘Back in a jiffy.’

Big Bend, population 500, South Dakota, 1988. Eight-year-old Tiny Mite lives in a ramshackle farmhouse next to her grandfather’s crashed airplane and the pine tree where she trains as a spy. Goddamn is her favourite word. Taking pictures with her camera made of aluminium foil and a tin can is her new big thing. She lives with Bee, her apocalypse-obsessed grandmother and Luvie, her hard-drinking great-aunt. And then there’s her mother Velvet, beautiful and desperate, still in love with her high school boyfriend who she left to have a brief fling with Tiny Mite’s absent father.

One night, Tiny Mite hears a cry, but it’s not what she imagines. And nothing will ever be the same. Six years later, Clea won’t let anyone call her Tiny Mite anymore. Luvie has fallen in love with a pastor, and Bee’s health is failing. Velvet is gone, and nobody except Bee, who can’t bring herself to turn her back on her daughter, will even mention her name.

Containing a wonderfully engaging and eccentric cast of characters who live long in the memory, this is the story of mothers and daughters, people bound by blood and geography, moments captured and lifetimes lost, and things never quite turning out as expected.

Not the Only Sky was a wonderful surprise to read; I’d expected a quirky read, something a little different, but what I found was not just quirky, but beautiful and heartfelt with characters that jumped off the page and will stay with me. Together with the thread of mystery that runs through the story, this all added up to a really excellent read.

Starting in 1988 and told in three parts over a decade, Not the Only Sky is the story of Tiny Mite/Clea and her family. In the first part of the novel we meet Tiny Mite and her family.  Tiny lives with her Mum, Velvet, her grandmother Bee and Her great aunt Luvvie in an old farmhouse deep in rural South Dakota. The town she lives in is small in a huge state and Big Bend is very much a forgotten corner of the world with run down shops, a dwindling population and a fair amount of poverty.

I love stories like this that tell of small town life and are populated by quirky but usually lovable and strong female characters. Tiny and the women that surround her certainly fit the bill; all are eccentric in different ways, slightly broken but still fighting and finding a way forward. Eight year old Tiny’s inner dialogue is just brilliant – I could have read her thoughts all day and in the tradition of Scout Finch and Swan Lake, Tiny has a a wonderfully unique take on the world.

So too does Tiny’s grandma Bee; deeply religious with a basement full of food stored for the apocalypse and a conspiracy theory for everything, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her character. Bee in particular has a complex line to tread, trying to keep her family together despite their individual difficulties. Not the Only Sky is very much a novel about the complexities of human relationships, particularly those of mothers and daughters and Alyssa Warren does a brilliant job of showing that there is often disparity between our thoughts and feelings and our actions and this gave me a lot of empathy for all of the charcters.

The story pivots around a day in 1988 that brings about huge change in the life of the family and is constructed in a very clever way so as to keep the reader guessing what happened to Tiny and Velvet that day. As the narrative jumps to 1994 then 1998 and moves between Velvet’s and Tiny’s (now known as Clea) stories, I was gripped!

I’m a big fan of books that follow a character through a number of years of their lives and I loved reading as Clea grew up and wishing wholeheartedly for a good outcome for her. With a timeless mix of old and new, heartbreak and hope, family ties and new beginnings, wise words and eccentric philosophies, Not the Only Sky is an excellent debut from Alyssa Warren and I’m very pleased to have discovered a wonderful new author.

5/5

Not the Only Sky is released today in paperback and ebook formats by Black and White Publishing.

Find out more about Alyssa Warren and her writing at: http://www.alyssa-warren.com/book/

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

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