The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn, paperback novel, 296 pages, published by University of Queensland Press in 2013.
Life is normal and reasonably predictable in the Blue Mountains region of Australia, where Fin is a fairly typical teenage boy. He rushes to school, hangs out with his mates, tries to impress the girl he likes, argues with his brother and is disappointed by his parents’ divorce. Such worries quickly become trivial when a nuclear winter descends upon Australia after nuclear missiles are launched between nations in the northern hemisphere. Fin and his little brother, Max, find themselves alone in a world turned upside-down overnight. The landscape is frozen and bleak, the situation grim with little cause for hope. Supplies of food and drinking water are limited and there is no electricity, no running water, and no help to be found.
What a stunning debut novel for Claire Zorn. The Sky So Heavy is an apocalyptic novel for young adults, suitable for high school students and up. I enjoy the genre of apocalyptic novels, and this book did not disappoint, though it was tamer than many of the adult novels I have read, making it much more suitable for younger readers. I highly recommend this book for high school students.
The situation in which Fin and Max find themselves is a terrifyingly realistic scenario, so well written, I could almost feel the desolation, the desperation and the fear. Life could progress just like this if nuclear war were to happen, and that makes this read particularly scary. Reading The Sky So Heavy made me want to go out and stock up on canned food and bottled water!
The characters are well developed, allowing the reader to know them, and conjure them in our imaginations. I liked all the characters, though Max was a little whiney, but what twelve year old brother isn’t! And given that all the parental figures in his life are gone and possibly dead, his reaction to his circumstances seems natural. Fin, Noll and Lucy are older than Max, but still they are faced with the same fears, apprehensions, worries, frustrations and uncertainties. Fin has the added burden of being responsible for Max. In a world that adults would struggle to navigate, this group of teenagers show bravery and compassion that would escape many, but also a strong desire to survive. These feelings are well expressed throughout the book, creating a realistic and compelling experience for the reader.
I will be eagerly watching for future novels by Claire Zorn. I think there will be more brilliance to come from this new author to the field of young adult fiction in Australia.
* The Sky So Heavy was an honour book for the 2014 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Older Readers category.