A Fistful of Sky: Too mature for YA, too shallow for adults

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsNina Kiriki Hoffman A Fistful of SkyA Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

A Fistful of Sky is the story of Gypsum LaZelle, who comes from a magical family. Each child goes through transition in their early teens and receives the ability to do magic. However, Gypsum doesn’t go through transition. After several years of adjusting to her life as the mundane member of her family, she unexpectedly goes through transition, and receives the power of cursing. The only magic she can do is to perform curses, and if she doesn’t use her power regularly, it turns inward and attacks her own body.

A Fistful of Sky is an interesting story. The siblings, parents, and assorted relatives of the LaZelle clan form a cast of colorful characters that form a web of conflicting allegiances around Gypsum as she struggles to learn how to cope with her new powers. The relationship between Gypsum and her mother was a source of tension throughout the novel, and irritatingly, there wasn’t a resolution to the sustained conflict between the two characters. There was also a mystical encounter with a presence in the ocean that was never explained or linked to the plot in a meaningful way. The lack of resolution to these two elements left the ending of the book feeling incomplete.

Another problem is that the novel suffers from a lack of identity. The material in the book is too mature for it to be considered a YA novel, but the characterization lacks the depth and maturity for it to be an adult fantasy. This uneasy dualism also undermines the main character. She is supposed to be in her early twenties, but talks and acts like she is in her mid-teens. Her ongoing angst about her new power left the pace of the book feeling a little slow.

A Fistful of Sky was an intriguing novel because I was always interested in what Gypsum would do with her power. But the problems with the characterization and tone left me feeling detached from the characters and action.

Gypsum LaZelle is a misfit in a family of spellcasters — she possesses no magical ability whatsoever. Until the day when she becomes gravely ill, and discovers that her Transition has occurred at last, bestowing upon her a strange and frightening power.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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