READ DECEMBER 2013
ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “Sixteen-year-old Morgan lives in a hick town in the middle of Nebraska. College is two years away. Her mom was killed in a car accident when she was three, her dad drinks, and her stepmom is a non-entity. Her boyfriend Derek is boring and her coworker Rob has a very cute butt that she can’t stop staring at. Then there’s the kiss she shared with her classmate Tessa…
But when Morgan discovers that the one person in the world she trusted most has kept a devastating secret from her, Morgan must redefine her life and herself”
MY REVIEW: For some reason, of late, I’ve been reading more YA than is my usual habit; I suppose it just makes a really nice buffer between somewhat grittier murder mysteries and UF. Whatever the case, I’ve been really lucky — or just damned clever (buffs nails on chest) — in my choices. To wit: Kirstin Cronn-Mills The Sky Always Hears Me: And the Hills Don’t Mind, a novel that succeeds on many levels, and which I can’t seem to find anything major to complain about. (Dammit. I mean, what fun is that?) While I couldn’t call the voice of our narrator, Morgan, unique, exactly, it’s definitely one of the book’s highlights. One hallmark of good writing, not just in this genre, is creating a novel that can be appreciated by a lot of different audiences; that definitely applies here, too.
Back to Morgan: Really smart, quirky (she writes and collects fortune-cookie style fortunes), wickedly sharp-tongued, and confident in academics, but not about the $64,000 question: How can you tell if it’s love or just sex? I’ll let you read her grandma’s answer for yourselves. There are times in our lives, and not just as teens, when we want to scream. Scream, in fact, til we’re so hoarse we can’t scream any more. Morgan actually gets to do this, though she does drive out of town rather than do it in homeroom or at a basketball game. She’s also a dreamer, wanting to go anywhere in the world as long as it’s somewhere away from the unspecified setting of Central Nowhere, Nebraska, there to write Great American Novel. She loves her grandma more than anything, and is devastated when she receives new knowledge about her past. There’s a bit of inconsistency in that she is furious with some of her friends for being judgmental, but is a bit judgmental herself. She’s not exactly role model material, but that only makes her more real and complex. As a rule, role model types aren’t nearly as interesting, anyway.
There are a lot of things going on in Morgan’s life: The boring sex with her BF, Derek, cos of his “Little Derek”; obsessing about the really cute ass of Rob, a guy she works with (one of the things she screams from her hill is “I’m a secret sex fiend;” the awesome kiss from Tessa, the girl next door; the junior prom; her dad’s alcoholism; her grandma’s stroke; revelations about her mom’s death; processing what her dad tells her about his childhood (the reader can see this one coming from miles away, but it’s still effective). In other words, she’s got a full plate. A lot of YA lit is filled with angst; there’s plenty of that here, but it’s balanced by a equal dose of wit, humor, and snarkiness.
There are plenty of clichés in the novel, largely in the characters, but somehow, Mrs. Cronn-Mills is able to give most of them just enough depth to avoid the completely banal or prosaic. Morgan, the “walking dictionary” is much, much more than that, for example. Grandma is not just a doting relative, but Morgan’s primary means of escape, and her past makes her character much more complex. Admittedly, Morgan’s two BF’s don’t escape cliché status, but, in a way, that has a positive effect on the story. Tessa, the lesbian crushing hard on the straight Morgan, is interesting enough to not become a caricature.
As I mentioned, Morgan’s voice is one of the treasures of the novel. In addition, there are some truly great individual scenes that stand out and make the book special: Morgan telling off Jessica, the goody-goody girl who’s been taunting Tessa; and the prom: a perfect moment, maybe my favorite in the entire book. I also liked the fact that the lesbian aspect was a tangential, though important aspect, rather than the focus. I have no problem with purely lesbian novels — there are many I’ve greatly enjoyed — but I doubt this book would have worked as well if it were that, rather than a YA novel with a lesbian character.
The Sky Always Hears Me: And the Hills Don’t Mind is not quite a perfect novel: a bit too much drooling over Rob’s tush; one of the “revelations” about Morgan’s grandma seems too obvious, though it does explain her dad’s character; the relationships with her BF’s are based entirely on the physical, though given that both guys are real dorks, that’s maybe a good thing; sometimes, though not often, it’s a little too cute. Also, I’d like to have seen Morgan’s friendship with Tessa — after Morgan explained she wasn’t interested in Tessa in a sexual way — developed more; it could have been a lot more interesting than that with either guy. Still, the positive aspects far outweigh these issues, and I highly recommend this book for teens and adults.