Publisher: Philomel Books
Release: June 2, 2015
A heartrending, bold novel in verse about family, identity, and forgivenessMonths ago, I wrote a blog post about this book's cover, praising the way the artwork perfectly aligned with the adjectives in the book's blurb. I applied the words heartrending, bold, raw, and exposed to the image and expressed certainty that these terms would also describe the story behind the cover.
Mira is just beginning her senior year of high school when she discovers her father with his male lover. Her world–and everything she thought she knew about her family–is shattered instantly. Unable to comprehend the lies, betrayal, and secrets that–unbeknownst to Mira–have come to define and keep intact her family’s existence, Mira distances herself from her sister and closest friends as a means of coping. But her father’s sexual orientation isn’t all he's kept hidden. A shocking health scare brings to light his battle with HIV. As Mira struggles to make sense of the many fractures in her family's fabric and redefine her wavering sense of self, she must find a way to reconnect with her dad–while there is still time.
Told in raw, exposed free verse, Skyscraping reminds us that there is no one way to be a family.
And, as it turns out, I was right. Skyscraping is bold, raw, exposed, and most of all heartrending. In this story about family and love, sickness and time, criers will have no choice but to shed a tear, and even less-expressive readers will feel a heartbreaking ache for Mira and her family. Aside from sympathetic, evocative storytelling, Cordelia Jensen accomplishes this emotion with two main elements: gorgeous verse and a haunting 90s setting.
Writing in verse is not a style suited for every story, but it works spectacularly well in Skyscraping. The sparse storytelling—which refrains from using excess words and often seems choppy, with one sentence split between multiple lines—conveys Mira's voice marvelously. The writing seems breathless and broken, as if the book is bursting with a tale to tell but can only release the story in short explosions of words. This is exactly how I imagine Mira relating the book's events, overwhelmed with a story she needs to share, but too emotional to delve deeply into every detail and too choked up to speak fluidly. The broken-but-beautiful writing is the perfect vessel for Skyscraping's broken-but-beautiful story, and it had me immediately absorbed in Mira's voice and emotions.
Equally wonderful is the way the verse makes the plot move so quickly—as verse always does. I wanted to cling to every page of this fully-felt story, savoring the bittersweet sadness as Mira's father battles his HIV. But pages slipped by quickly—too quickly—and I found myself reading up to five pages per minute. This feeling mirrors the mood of the book, as Mira and her family strain to make the most of their fleeting time with her father, terrified that they likely have fewer days together than they expected. As a result of the fast-paced writing and its parallels to the plot, readers will feel deeply involved in the story, as if they are experiencing the book's events alongside the characters.
In addition to Jensen's writing style, this novel's 90s setting also serves to amplify the story's emotions. While Skyscraping is set barely over twenty years ago, something about its time period—at least as it is portrayed in fiction—seems better suited for introspection and interpersonal relations than today. Likely due to the relative lack of technology, books set in the 90s seem quieter than present-day stories, with emotions that seem more vivid without the perpetual buzz of the Internet to blur them at the corners. I noticed this phenomenon first in Jenny Hubbard's And We Stay, which has a quiet-but-beautiful mood due in part to its 1995 setting, and Skyscraping gave me the same feeling. I loved returning to my birth decade for a refreshing, calming break from 2010s media.
From its writing to its setting to every other strength I do not have space to mention, Skyscraping tells a stellar story. It is a novel both personal, telling the intimate tale of one family, and universal, featuring an issue that still affects many today. Full of elements that will impress verse-lovers, emotional readers, and history fanatics, Skyscraping is a supernova of a novel.