Not The Only Sky by Alyssa Warren

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“I want to meet him.” When neither Bee nor Luvie respond, Tiny Mite kicks the leg of her TV tray. “I want a dad.”

Bee lays down her fork. “Most kids only have two parents, but you’ve got me, Luvie, your mother and Jiggs, which makes double what they got, and don’t forget Henniker, our free legal counsel.”

“Luvie says he’s a pervert.”

Bee nods. “True, but you never know when you’ll get sued for breathing in this country.”

This novel was such a blast for me. The first half when Tiny Mite is little, before she grows up becoming Clea and no longer goes by her nickname, we run around with this peculiar, sometimes savage other times tender fatherless child as she tries to get her mother’s affection. Velvet’s plans didn’t include being stuck in Big Bend, she didn’t sacrifice her first love for someone untamed to abandon her and their unborn child. It’s a hardscrabble life, and her future is a dark, monotonous, shriveled thing. Her mother’s pious acceptance of mediocrity is torture, she can’t bond with her odd little girl who spends more time running around half naked and seems stuck in the same time warp as her Aunt Luvie and mother Bee. Velvet and her mother can’t seem to agree on anything and her constant reminders of how hard she had it in life sets Velvet’s teeth on edge. “Why do you have to make everything better, mother? If your life was as bad as you brag, why didn’t you just shoot yourself?”   Bee herself suffers the verbal attacks with optimism but still feels every biting rebuke as a laceration. “Bee’s bones feel like they are disintegrating when she and Velvet argue, and it’s no wonder, she thinks,  when Velvet’s never-ending misery rattles every nut and bolt loose in her body.”  What mother doesn’t want happiness for their children, regardless of the situation she got her self stuck in? What mother doesn’t ache over the disharmony between her and her child. But Velvet will never be able to survive if she remains under her childhood roof. Time doesn’t stand still in Big Bend, it stops altogether. Working meaningless job, making minimum wage is no life for anyone and at this rate she won’t have enough to make sure he daughter Tiny Mite can escape the dead weight of Big Bend.

Tiny Mite is just fine, thank you. Sure, she hungers for a dad, she is a born misfit among misfits but she finds pleasure in her strange interests and loves to eavesdrop on all the adults around her.  When she isn’t snooping, she is taking photos with her homemade camera, which may well become a future passion. She can be found hoarding others treasures like old family photos. Some of her curiosities lean towards the macabre but it comes from an artistic mind. How could her family not rub off on her?  Bee is prepared for the end of times, and knows the devil is everywhere- in tattooed bikers her daughter is drawn to, in other’s thoughts and actions- but Aunt Luvie’s only evil spirits are brewing ‘in her cups’. Velvet hides and cries when no one is awake, only in the dark cloak of night can she release the flood of her pain where unbeknownst to her, Tiny Mite is witness. Where she goes for her nightly raid of the food pantry, she has the best seat in the house to Velvet’s grief. When Tiny Mite is running late for an important day of school, Velvet makes a rash decision that will change the trajectory of Tiny Mite’s life, and sour the already strained relationship between mother and daughter.

Now, Tiny Mite has shed her name and goes by Clea. Bee is aging and her health is on the decline, Aunt Luvie stops drinking and Clea, dressed in her granddad’s old clothes is shunned by her peers at school. Abandoned cruelly by her mother in a moment frozen in her psyche, Clea is just barely surviving, alternating between rage and self-blame about her mother’s departure. “Clea’s tireless rat heart couldn’t stop scratching, searching, burrowing, wondering.” It is the wonder and fire inside of Clea that drives the novel. Times have gotten even harder, money and food at home are scarce and her heart is a pocket full of holes. She makes a connection with a boy, Jerod who is far more misunderstood than her. Through him she learns not to take her ragtag remaining family for granted, and the little she has grows in volumes. A love blossoms out of the ruins of different tragedies Clea and Jerod have been through. It is one of the most realistic love stories about young teenagers I’ve ever read, their coming together is gorgeous.

The readers get snippets of Velvet’s life, minus Tiny Mite (Clea), but it doesn’t make the story any softer. There is so much pain and yet, hope. These are extremely flawed characters, and it makes for perfection.  Some run away from their pain, others towards it. It is a dissection of the life we are given in opposition to the one we think we should have. While it’s about a willful, strong, unique girl it is also a beautiful story about family and love; love that abandons and love that steps in. Jiggs relationship with Tiny Mite is beautiful, a reminder love and loyalty can be found in the least likely places. While Velvet is gone, she is a living haunt from the wall of a hallway where her portraits watch over or mock Clea. Velvet’s heart is a mystery, and maybe it is never too late to be a mother.

The beginning made me feel like a child, I loved it- Tiny Mite is genuine, silly, curious, naughty at times (a bit like I remember being) and the way it’s written sets the perfect atmosphere.Tiny Mite doesn’t really seem aware of herself in the presence of others, and most children are exactly like this. Running around half nude isn’t anything shocking to them, she represents the freedom of youth. Then when she grows up, the novel feels different but just as moving. The perspective transitions seamlessly to that of a more mature, angry voice. I hope everyone enjoys this as much as I did. Yes, it deals with mother/daughter complexities but it is so much more than that. Lovely and you, dear readers, are in luck. It’s coming out this month, April 27! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts. This is an author I will be watching!

Available April 27, 2017

Black & White Publishing

 

 

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