Title: Watch the Sky
Author: Kirsten Hubbard
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
The signs are everywhere, Jory’s stepfather, Caleb, says.Red leaves in the springtime. Pages torn from a library book. All the fish in the aquarium facing the same way. A cracked egg with twin yolks. Everywhere and anywhere. And because of them Jory’s life is far from ordinary. He must follow a very specific set of rules: don’t trust anyone outside the family, have your works at the ready just in case, and always, always watch out for the signs. The end is coming, and they must be prepared.
School is Jory’s only escape from Caleb’s tight grasp, and with the help of new friends Jory begins to explore a world beyond his family’s farm. As Jory’s friendships grow, Caleb notifies Jory’s mother and siblings that the time has come for final preparations.
They begin an exhausting schedule digging a mysterious tunnel in anticipation of the disaster. But as the hold gets deeper, so does the family’s doubt about whether Caleb’s prophecy is true. When the stark reality of his stepfather’s plans becomes clear, Jory must choose between living his own life or following Caleb, shutting his eyes to the bright world he’s just begun to see.
Watch the Sky is the first middle-grade that I’ve read in a while, and it had me hooked. I tend to avoid the middle-grade genre because I often find them too simplified, but Hubbard does an excellent job of creating a complex family situation that is reveals slowly over the course of the novel. Her writing style is subtle, but the tension throughout the text has you on edge, unsure of the danger, but you’re aware that danger is always lurking. At first, it’s not readily apparent that there’s something wrong with the situation, but we are gradually shown that Jory’s family is very different, and perhaps the family is not as safe as they believe themselves to be.
Hubbard tackles some difficult topics: poverty, dysfunctional family life, paranoia, possible PTSD, and fear. What I really liked is that these issues are not stated outright. Jory comes to realize what is off kilter in his world as he learns more about the lives of his friends and classmates. He has been told to trust no one but his own family, no matter what, but he learns that his family’s way may not always be the correct way. He comes to question his safety, and the safety of his mother, sister, and brother, and he acts out in order to protect them.
The main body of the text is very strong. Jory is a curious and likeable character who is unsure how he fits into the world. He’s trusting, curious, loyal, and intelligent. He loves his sister, Kit, and encourages her out of her perpetual silence, breaking through her shell to establish a devoted friendship. This story shows Jory’s movement towards growing up. He learns to think for himself and establishes some independence apart from his family. It is his independence and his natural curiosity about the world around him that allows him to stand up for what’s rights and to make a move to better his situation.
My only criticism for Watch the Sky is the ending. Hubbard spends such effort to make a detailed and complex story, but she falls short with her ending. The climax and conclusion disregard the careful detail of the rest of the text and the whole story–all of the tensions–ends in an abrupt and anti-climactic two pages. It was a bit of a disappointment after the care that was put into the rest of the book. It was a bit frustrating. For this reason, I’ve rated it 3.5 stars out of 5.
This is a great book to open up the discussion of tough topics with middle grade readers.