The Sky So Heavy
University of Queensland Press
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Fin is just an ordinary teenager – coping with his parent’s separation and his father’s subsequent remarriage, struggling his way through high school and crushing on one of the most sophisticated girls in his class, trying to get her to notice him. They study for history together but Fin would definitely like more than that.
But then one day changes everything. A nearby country was supposed to be testing nuclear weapons only they turned them on neighbouring countries, almost obliterating some off the map. Australia is greatly affected by the fallout – the electricity and phones fail rendering most people clueless as to what’s going on. It’s dark, freezing cold and snow is falling. His father, who left to follow his new wife after a family argument, has not returned by the next day. Fin and his younger brother Max are alone. The small amount of warning he was given by his mother that something had gone wrong had allowed him to stock up on some cans of food and fill containers with water. They have enough to get by – for now.
But there is no sign of things improving. The local supermarket shuts its doors when the owner realises that there are no supply trucks coming through. Fin realises that he is going to have to ration what they have to get by. They face angry neighbours and even an irate police officer, who tries to steal what food they have left. Teaming up with a boy from his school, Fin knows they have to leave their area in the Blue Mountains and try and make it to the inner-city where his mother is. She’ll have the answers, she’ll have information and she’ll be able to help him. They also take Fin’s crush Lucy at the request of her mother who sees their trip as Lucy’s best chance for survival.
But making it to the city isn’t going to be easy – especially when the little group discover that there is now a divide. The haves and the have nots. And to get through they’re going to have to break some rules.
The Sky So Heavy is a post-apocalyptic novel set in the lower Blue Mountains in NSW. The main character is Fin, a relatively normal high school boy who finds himself thrust into a very non-normal situation when a nearby country mess up their nuclear testing either by accident or design. They not only utterly destroy nations closer to them but the nuclear fallout has an immediate and devastating affect on Australia as well. Fin is left in a position of responsibility over his younger brother Max when he is separated from adults and he has to assume a sort of parental role over him, working to make sure that he’d kept fed, warm and also relatively calm. Max is only 12 and this situation is devastating for anyone but for the younger, the lack of authority makes it even more confusing.
This is a surprisingly realistic book. It’s not too far to stretch that there is a country who might want to test nuclear weapons although the specific country isn’t named in this book. When the temperatures drop and it begins to snow and the power and phone fails, Fin realises that out in the burbs and beyond, they seem to have been forgotten. They get one army drop of food and then that’s it – they’re on their own. No supply trucks are coming through and when Fin decides to attempt to get to his mother in Sydney, they get to a checkpoint where they realise that people aren’t being allowed in unless they carry ID that states they’re residents of the metropolitan area. The city is being ‘saved’ in a way – but the rest of the state is not. The decision has been made to sacrifice many in order to potentially save some.
For his trek into the city, Fin has teamed up with Noll, a boy from his school who was outcast presumably for being the only Asian kid around, and Lucy his crush as well as his younger brother. Although they encounter the odd difficulty along the way, it does seem to be relatively easy for them to get where they need to go – there aren’t other cars on the roads and what threats they do encounter, they can see off. This bit felt a bit unrealistic as essentially they’re just a bunch of kids in an environment that would’ve gone borderline feral, survival of the fittest. However the core character’s personalities felt realistic and authentic. Fin was a still a kid really and his solution when his father disappeared and didn’t return was ‘find our mother and get to her. She’ll fix this’ which is I think, what most kids would think. They need to be told what to do, what is happening. The fact that there was no power, so no radio, television or internet and no newspapers making their way through was eerie. It’s very difficult to imagine a world in crisis where you can’t actually find out any information about what’s happening where. We are so reliant on technology these days.
I like to think in a similar situation I’d be inside the zone but in reality, I’m on the other side of the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne, which would be a perfect place for a checkpoint. So I’d be outside of it. I thought this book carried an interesting message about the decisions that people who are in charge have to make, difficult decisions that don’t sit well with them but need to be made and enforced nonetheless. It brought up some very uncomfortable hypothetical situations in my head about what various people in power in this country might do in such a situation. I wasn’t sure I liked the answers anymore than Fin did.
This is a clever, well written book that makes it all too easy for the reader to put themselves in Fin’s shoes and think about what they’d do, how they’d react. How far would you go to be able to get to someone you thought could help you? How far would you go to save someone you cared about? It’s a fantastical story and yet far more relevant than I’d like right now.
The Sky So Heavy is book #83 of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2013