Review: Pieces of Sky by Trinity Doyle

Margot McGovern reviews Pieces of Sky by Trinity Doyle

Mum painted my brother’s coffin.

It was beautiful, if such a thing can be—the waves of the ocean, gradients of green to blue mixed with the white of sea foam. Despite the grim irony that the ocean which smothered his lungs should cover him in death, it suited him.

Cam was made with more water than most.

Lucy’s brother, Cam, has been dead eight weeks and it’s time Lucy started piecing her life back together. Time to get back in the pool. ‘Today should feel right,’ she tells herself. ‘Today school goes back and the routine of train, study, train can start again.’ Only Lucy—state champion backstroker—can’t make herself get in the water. She can’t find her way back into her old routine or enjoy hanging out with her old friends whose lives revolve around swimming.

Her mum has completely shut down and hardly ever gets out of bed, and her dad doesn’t even notice when she stays out all night. Her Auntie Deb, up from Newcastle, just doesn’t get it. Even Cam’s best mate, Ryan, has left town. The only people Lucy feels she can turn to are her estranged best friend from primary school, Steffi, and Steffi’s cousin Evan, who’s just blown in from Sydney and has problems of his own. And then one night Lucy finds pictures of a faceless girl hidden among Cam’s other drawings and strange, poetic texts start appearing on his phone from an unknown number.

In her search to discover the mystery girl and what really happened to Cam the night he died, Lucy finds a love of her own as well as some hard truths and a family secret.

Pieces of Sky is a moving novel about grief, growing up and moving on. It’s a quiet story of small town Australian life, and the tragedy of Cam’s death is a familiar one: every summer we read about kids taken by the surf. But we don’t hear the stories of what happens to those left behind, and how such deaths affect not just families, but whole communities. We assume teenagers take risks, like surfing close to a rip at night, because they feel invincible, and initially Lucy assumes the same of Cam: ‘I always thought my brother was a dumb boy who did stupid stuff,’ but the more she learns about Cam, the more she begins to wonder:  ‘What if it was something more?’

Pieces of Sky is also a story rooted in the coastal landscape of New South Wales, and though Lucy is afraid to return to the beach, the sea waits, vast and ominous, beyond every page: ‘The waves crashing and sucking back to crash again’. The heat of the Australian summer stifles, inescapable as Lucy and her family’s grief. It slows everything down and makes normal life impossible. The houses are small and stuffy, offering little in the form of escape from the elements. It’s only at Evan’s that Lucy can laze beneath the aircon and find some relief.

It’s an authentic story peppered with details readers will recognise from their own teenage summers: slopping about in Havaianas, drinking Cruisers on the beach and finding unseen places to hang out: building sites, protected coves—anywhere parents won’t think to look. Doyle’s dialogue is sharp and rings true, as do her characters and their relationships. Lucy and her friends are awkward with each other, overwhelmed by and not fully in control of their feelings and the situations they find themselves in, but trying to help each other out and make sense of what the world throws at them.

Lucy in particular is a rounded, realistic character. She has her shit together, or at least she did until Cam died. She’s the good girl who likes ‘rules and order and logic’, and when that structure is removed, she can’t cope. It isn’t just grief she’s dealing with; Cam’s death forces her to reevaluate all areas of her life, and she deals with this at times by trying to impose order—colour coding her timetable, setting homework reminders on her phone, begging Evan not to take out his hang glider and texting him continuously when he’s away—and at others giving into the chaos—drinking, sneaking out, ditching school and talking Evan into an impromptu road trip to Sydney.

Pieces of Sky is a refreshing debut about accepting loss, putting the pieces back together and reevaluating the things that matter.

Pieces of Sky is available through Amazon (Kindle).

If you enjoyed Pieces of Sky, these titles might also tickle your fancy:

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A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell (read the Lectito review), available:

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, available:

If I Stay by Gayle Forman, available:

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Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, available:

Loooking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, available:

Frozen Fire by Tim Bowler, available:

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