Friday, April 01, 2022

When the Sky Falls

Earle, Phil. When the Sky Falls
April 5th 2022 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Some spoilers**

While most children in London are being sent to the countryside, Joseph, who is from the North of England, is sent into the city by his grandmother to live with Mrs. Farrelly while his father is away fighting. Joseph's mother left when he was young, and his anger has lead to behavior his grandmother doesn't feel she can control. Things are dire in London, but Mrs. Farrelly never shirks from hard work. She gets Joseph settled in her home, which has minimal comforts, and takes him with her to the zoo her family has run for generations. The zoo has fallen on hard times, and most of the animals have been sent to other zoos, since it is difficult to obtain food, and the war effort keeps trying to requisition the iron fences. Those fences are important to keep Adonis, a silverback gorilla, from getting loose. He is grieving the loss of his mate and his child, and is clearly stressed by the nightly air raidss. Joseph is supposed to help Mrs. F. with the zoo chores along with Syd, who is living with an aunt after the death of both of of her parents in a bombing. Mrs. F. enrolls Joseph in school, but he runs into trouble because he still can't read. The words "swim on the page", and even though his teacher and Mrs. F. are supportive, they lack the information needed to help him. When a school bully comes into the zoo to terrorize Joseph and gets too close to Adonis' cage, the boys father complains and letters arrive warning Mrs. F. to relocate Adonis or see him shot. She tries, but it's hard to find someone to take him. Joseph tries to get around the public tests that the principal terrorizes the students with, but when he is caught memorizing a passage instead of reading it, the principal canes him. Luckily, Mrs. F. arrives and takes his side. With time running out, will Joseph be able to champion Adonis with as much success?
Strengths: During this school year, I have thought almost daily how glad I am that I am not living in London during the Blitz. Really. Not only was there the incessant bombing, but the lack of supplies must have been challenging. Joseph's school had very few students, since most were sent to the country. Can you imagine teaching in such a situation? The details about clothing, food, heating (at one point, Mrs. F. runs out of coal, so they burn damp wood from bombing sites in order to keep warm), and nightly excursions to the back yard bomb shelter or the Tube station are absolutely chilling. Mrs. F. heads straight to the zoo any time there is an air raid-- so she can wait it out with a rifle pointed at Adonis. This is the real life details that sparked the whole book, and is such a devastating thought. Joseph's struggles are realistic, and the treatment in the 1940s or children with learning disabilities is shocking to modern sensibilities. Joseph has endured multiple traumas, and continues to be beset with new ones. The highlight of the book, however, is the heartwarming part-- Mrs. F. has had trauma as well, and she is able to overcome her past to take care of Joseph when he really needs someone to be on his side. 
Weaknesses: There is a lot of sadness in this. *Spoiler* Things don't end well for either Joseph's father of for Adonis. 
What I really think: This was an enthralling read, in the vein of Boyne's Stay Where You Are and Then Leave (2014). There are so many untold facets of World War II, and the fate of zoos is harrowing and yet fascinating. When I visited London in 2000, I have vague memories of seeing an aviary, perhaps in Regent's Park, that had escaped the bombing. That stuck with me, and made When the Sky Falls feel even closer to home. An excellent read. 

1 comment:

  1. This sounds a really good book, one to watch out for. There seems to be a trend recently (or maybe it's just co-incidence that I am reading so many reviews) of books set in England during WW2. I'm a bit worried about Adonis and Joseph's father though!