Morgan’s teenage life in Central Nowhere, Nebraska is in upheaval. As she whiles away the hours as a grocery store clerk alongside Rob, her delectable coworker, she has her ho-hum relationship with Derek to deal with after hours. When her alcoholic father isn’t holed up in the family basement, he’s shouting at Morgan and her two little brothers, left to fend for themselves while their stepmother, Anne, wanders out of the fray.
And when Morgan isn’t battling her feelings for the two very different boys in her life, she’s fantasizing about someone else entirely. Tessa, her neighbor, took one summer evening as an opportunity to find Morgan camped out in her yard — and kiss her. Romantic, delicious and totally confusing, Morgan has lived in the shadow of that kiss since it happened . . . and can’t decide what it means. Or where to go from here — other than out of Central Nowhere.
With wit, warmth and dark humor, Kirstin Cronn-Mills weaves a powerful story in The Sky Always Hears Me: And The Hills Don’t Mind. Narrator Morgan is an intelligent teen who dreams of writing the Great American Novel, like many of us, but gets by on penning cryptic “fortunes” on Post-Its, napkins and register tape — anything she can find, basically, and leaving them strewn about like edicts from a higher power. When life gets too overwhelming, Morgan escapes to visit her grandmother, Elsie, and borrows her car to go and vent her frustrations in the wide-open hills of Nebraska.
Morgan carries The Sky Always Hears Me, letting us into her private world as she grapples with issues as large as sexuality, abuse and a stifling sense of being sequestered in a tiny place she’s long outgrown. Though the “I have to get out of this God forsakin’ town!” trope is definitely nothing new in fiction, Morgan was a fresh character with whom I could relate — someone whose dream is to write and do something more, but can’t immediately find the tools to do so.
While the book centers largely around the three love interests in the story, creating a complicated romantic triangle, it’s also about family dynamics and the long reach of grief. Morgan’s mother died when she and Martin were small, leaving them alone with a distant father and one guilty, saddened grandmother. Elsie, Morgan’s grandma, has done everything she can to provide a loving female role model for her granddaughter — but that hasn’t necessarily been enough.
Interspersed with Cronn-Mills’ narrative are snippets of fortunes from Chinese restaurants all over the world, collected by Elsie when she was a traveling concert pianist. In addition to penning her own, Morgan takes these fortunes to heart — and I liked the way we were introduced to each chapter with another quote or piece of advice. It provided credence to the sense that anything can change at any time — and that, for better or worse, we can all shape our destinies. And Morgan can shape hers.
In addition to being entertaining and very readable, The Sky Always Hears Me does an admirable job of exploring teen sexuality. As a young woman, Morgan isn’t expected to have everything figured out — and the path towards discovery can be messy. Central Nowhere is a small town, of course, and few are accepting of the idea of gay or lesbian people in their community. Fear and disapproval of an “immoral” lifestyle permeate Morgan and Tessa’s high school. I liked that Cronn-Mills didn’t take the easy way out, showing Morgan’s “repulsion” at being kissed by Tessa and failing to stick up for her friend. Instead, the author let her characters work out their feelings on their own terms.
Fans of quirky young adult fiction featuring memorable, dimensional characters would enjoy Kirstin Cronn-Mills’ debut novel — and I know this isn’t one I’ll soon forget. At just over 270 pages, too, it’s easily devoured in an afternoon or two.
4 out of 5!