Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, pub. Firefly Press (2014). ISBN: 9781910080009
When Skylar Rousseau falls from Blackfin Pier and drowns on her sixteenth birthday, the whole town goes into mourning — until she shows up three months later like nothing happened. Unravelling the mystery of those missing months takes Sky to the burned-out circus in the woods, and whispers of murder and kidnapping. But Sky’s not the only one with secrets… there’s the haunted weathervane, the enigmatic circus ringmaster, and even the mysterious Blood House.
I came to Kat Ellis’ book entirely by chance while researching a publisher for work. The title tickled my imagination and the blurb sucked me in. Before I knew it I was downloading a copy onto my Kindle app (at a bargain price, so buying yet another book was entirely justified. Honest. Stop judging me.) Anyway, I’m very, very glad that I did. Blackfin Sky now ranks among my favourite young adult books of the last decade. Hop on over the jump and I’ll tell you why.
I loved Young Adult books before the genre was minted, ploughing through title after title in the school library or crashed out on my bed looking for better worlds than the one I lived in. They were a formative part of my childhood and my understanding of what people could (and should) be in the face of adversity. While Blackfin Sky could be described as a Young Twin Peaks or a Night Vale Junior, it could also be described in terms of the human truths within: That family is more than blood relation; that secrets wound, even when you think they protect you; that good people can be manipulated into doing evil; that consequences echo long after decisions are made.
Worthiness aside, the writing is fluent, wry and extremely focused. At its heart the book is a mystery waiting to be unravelled, and the care with which characters, events and repercussions are knotted bespeaks a confident author in full control of her creation. I am being deliberately vague about the details in this review because so much of the enjoyment I got from the reading experience was in the unveiling of the clues and the unexpected turns the plot took. Of course, constructing a plot is one thing, but bringing it to life is a different kind of challenge. First time authors usually manage one at the expense of the other, but Ellis’s début cuts a fine balance. Her world is quirky, her style shifts between effervescent and unsettling, and her characters are irresistible.
If the heroine and her friends are to be taken as a measure, this book is aimed at teenagers, but I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone above that age group as well. There is nothing twee about the story, no sense of being patronised or lectured by the author. We are thrust into the mindset of the young adults very quickly, and it is captured so vividly – from casual cruelty and calculated rebellion, to passionate feelings and acute embarrassment – that even adult readers will happily lose themselves in the drama. Some parents may be concerned by two sexual references, but I think the author handled the subject with maturity and tact. One allusion is entirely innocent, and will only be ‘got’ by readers who already know about that kind of thing, while the other is a strong character moment, delicately framed, non-explicit, and expressive of love rather than lust.
Sky Rousseau is a wonderful protagonist, full of life and curiosity. She is pragmatic, determined and brave, without coming across as some kind of idealised heroine. To her friends she’s just a normal girl. Everybody else finds her fascinating or infuriating because she refuses to be controlled by their conventions. I can’t think of a role-model I would want more for my daughter. This independence of thought, this self-determinism is effectively Sky’s super-power. I won’t say anything more in order to avoid spoilers, but the way this theme develops through the story is gratifyingly imaginative. I was a little frustrated by the ending, because it seemed as though she couldn’t quite decide whether to let the story stand on its own or lead on to a sequel. A minor gripe, but it did make me draw back from giving it full marks. I will certainly be picking up Ellis’ next book though, whichever path she chooses. For this author, the Sky’s just the beginning.
GS Rating: 4.5/5
GS Blogger: Dion Winton-Polak