An emotionally rich and convincing story of loyalty, change, challenge and community, Sky Dancer by Gill Lewis is about the struggle (and rewards) of nurturing hope when the structures around you resist re-imagining a better future. It’s very much a novel for the times we live in, a rewarding and robust encouragement to play a part in creating a more diverse, more thoughtful and more sustainable world.
Joe, Ella and Minty come from three very different backgrounds but join forces to fight for what they believe in, even when it feels like a betrayal of the people they love. A working-class boy from a family of gamekeepers, a naïve townie transplanted to the countryside and the elegant daughter of wealthy landowners, these three young people overcome the difficulties they have in trusting each other as they question what really matters to them and how they can make a difference, realising along the way that because a certain way of life is traditional, that doesn’t automatically make it right.
Challenging its readers to think about what nature really is, what we value in the natural landscape, how we can and might support environmental diversity, whilst acknowledging that human beings do live here on the planet and will always want to (and need to) use it to survive and thrive, Sky Dancer achieves something very special; it is authentic and illuminating in its specific details (exploring life on a country estate where driven grouse shooting plays a large role), at the same time as having a much broader relevance addressing issues around community division and reinvention, class prejudice, inter-generational loyalty and innovation.
Tight plotting and sharp editing deliver cliff-hanger chapter endings time and again. Nuanced and vibrant characterisation enriches the storytelling, capturing the reader who roots for first one person, then another, ensuring a multifaceted exploration of a whole host of themes threaded throughout the story with lightness and grace. There’s viscerality and daring and guts alongside football and family and perceptive psychology, resulting in a book which I’m confident will genuinely appeal just as much to boys as to girls.
Despite a picture postcard English landscape evocatively described, and a story of landed gentry and privilege, this is a radical book.
In addressing issues of class and the environment, Sky Dancer makes us think about issues which are currently poorly served in a diverse storytelling landscape. Stories which challenge racism and sexism are indeed vital. But other aspects of social justice are just as much in need of exploration and conversation if we want our books to help nurture empathetic, engaged 21st century citizens.
There’s considerable nostalgia around structures which support class systems (think of the popularity of Downton Abbey) and environment activism is often greeted with a resigned sigh (I’ve asked people whether they are willing to boycott flying because a company is anti-gay and people ask me to tell them more. I’ve asked people to consider not flying because of the damage to the environment and I get given excuses about why flying is essential). In raising questions about both social class and our relationship with, and responsibilities to, the natural world Sky Dancer shines an uncommon light on vital issues.
Sky Dancer is a bold, brilliantly told story which make its readers feel they can surmount huge obstacles, that they have an enormously valuable contribution to make. God, I know I want my kids to feel able stand up and make a positive difference, don’t you? This potent and passionate book, a book for a better world, will help them do just that.
Now the mean bit: This book isn’t out till October, but I was burning to tell you about it! Put in those orders and reservations now; you’ll want to get your hands on this book as soon as you possibly can. And when you do have the book in your hands, come back and explore this pinterest board I’ve put together, following up themes from the book.
Like us, you might also be inspired by Ella, our favourite character in Sky Dancer. In an electrifying scene Ella, recently moved to the countryside, and Minty, the daughter of the landowner, have spark-flying argument about how the land is managed. Minty thinks she has all the answers – her family has, after all, lived on this land for generations. Ella, however, has done her homework and has researched all the plants and animals the moors could support if they were managed differently, and this eagerness to learn and thirst for knowledge eventually earns Minty’s respect.
With Ella in mind, we walked the fields near us trying to identify every plant we saw. As long as they weren’t the only example of any given plant, and were not protected, we picked a sample to include in a herbarium – our own guide to the flora we can find on our doorsteps.
The RHS has a really useful guide on how to create a herbarium of your own. As ever, it was such a delight to be so inspired by a book that we not only learned more about ourselves, but also took it to heart and out into our world.