What happens when your life revolves around water, then you can’t bear to get back in the pool?
Lucy had life under control. A champion backstroke swimmer, she was always either training or at school. When her older brother, Cam, drowned while he was away with his mates, her world collapsed. Now her mum has zoned out, her dad ignores her, and her well-meaning aunt is running the family.
On the first day of Year 10 it’s also her first day back to swim training. But as she prepares to dive in, she’s gripped by panic. She can’t do it. The water killed Cam. It feels like it’s killing her.
Pieces of Sky is the story of Lucy trying to make life work again. More than that, it’s also about the people left behind when a young person dies suddenly; the family, the friends, and the community, in this case a coastal town.
Narrated by Lucy, the story begins eight weeks after Cam’s death, when the initial shock has worn off and those closest to him are trying to take up normal life again, when the real effects begin to reveal themselves. Feeling distant and ignored by her parents, her relationships with her friends take centre stage, including the new boy at school, Evan.
Doyle brings in the layers of Lucy’s relationships step by step, including Cam’s friends and former girlfriend, weaving them together in a web of social ties that feels organic. The relationship between Lucy and Cam is portrayed as somewhat hero-worship, making it even more difficult for her to adjust to his loss.
The ambivalence Lucy now feels towards water – and so perhaps to Cam and his senseless drowning – is difficult to miss. The opening paragraphs of the novel set the scene beautifully:
Mum painted my brother’s coffin.
It was beautiful, if such a thing can be – the waves of the ocean, gradients of green to blue mixed with the white of sea foam. Despite the grim irony that the ocean which smothered his lungs should cover him in death, it suited him.
Cam was made with more water than most.
Gradually Lucy discovers there was more to Cam than she knew, and maybe even more to what happened on the night he drowned than anybody was saying.
Pieces of Sky is not just about loss and grief, though. It’s about Lucy rediscovering life. Her time has been so regimented – train, study, train – that now she’s unable to go into the water, she has to learn how to live outside of a strict timetable. She’s let friendships and other interests slide. Without her brother, who introduced her to new things, and swimming, that let her go through her days without having to make decisions, she has to forge a new path on her own.
With a premise that sounds somber, Pieces of Sky has plenty of lighter of moments. It’s well written, and I wanted to hurry up and get back to it when I had to do something else. That’s always a marker of a great book.
Pieces of Sky by Trinity Doyle
Allen & Unwin
Published: June 2015
Links: Trinity Doyle’s webpage