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 a homemade camera 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, heartbroken, desperate, impulsive. One night, Tiny Mite goes to the basement and 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 is sober and Bee’s health is failing. Velvet has been gone for years, and nobody except Bee will even mention her name. Alone, angry and dressed in her grandfather’s old hunting clothes, Clea mopes through ditches and fields taking photographs until she hatches a plan with another loner, a boy with an unspeakable past.
This is a story of mothers and daughters. Of people tied by blood and home. Of moments captured and lifetimes lost. And of things never quite turning out as expected.
Published by Black and White Publishing 27th April 2017
I love something a bit different now then, with quirky characters and original writing styles. Not The Only Sky by Alyssa Warren definitely fits the bill here. Every single character in this book is unique, eccentric, vivid and oh so endearing too.
The book is set during two time frames. The first half of the book is set in 1988 and centres around a family made up of women – Grandmother, Daughter, Aunt and child. What’s interesting about this family is is the dynamics, created through a lifetime of disappointments, with men, with the small town they live in and with each other. The three older women though are united by Tiny Mite, who is seriously the most endearingly quirky and heart capturing character you can meet. The second part is set six years later, Tiny Mite is now known by her real name of Clea and her mother Velvet disappeared years ago. Broken bonds need to be fixed, but this means finding the missing parts and an awful lot of forgiveness.
I absolutely loved the first part of this book and felt Alyssa Warren really allows the reader to understand each of the four members of this strange family and understand what drives them, what has made them the way they are. I especially felt that Tiny Mite’s mother, Velvet, was well written and her despair, loneliness, restlessness and desire for more seeped from the pages. Not The Only Sky is set in a small town and the claustrophobic, weary and neglected atmosphere of the place was vivid. If I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy the second part quite as much, I’m not sure exactly why, perhaps because it was the dynamics of the character’s together I’d loved so much in the first part.
Alyssa Warren’s writing is, like her characters, unique and quirky, with the most wonderful descriptions that bring her words bouncing to life. This isn’t a quick read, often I had to go back and read something several times to fully appreciate what was being said. This is writing to savour, linger over and allow to soak itself into you. There’s a bit of a mystery, which adds a sense of intrigue, but mainly this is a character driven story about the relationships between mothers and daughters, the pull of loyalty to those who share blood and bonds that bind us to a place and make it a home. It’s unusual, it’s raw and it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but I liked it and if you feel like something new, fresh and completely unlike what you’ve read recently, then this book is a good option for you.