For Frankie Avery, the most memorable moment of 1979 was supposed to be graduating primary school – but then a space station called Skylab started to fall towards Earth. Most people are either frightened or fascinated by the ordeal, but for Frankie it has reawakened painful memories of grief and loss about her father she thought she’d locked away. And if that wasn’t enough to contend with, younger brother, Newt, has become fixated on Skylab and what its reemergence back home could mean for his family. “Maybe a space station isn’t the only thing heading straight for calamity.”
The way Meg McKinlay explores sorrow and heartache through her writing is beautifully and realistically done.
Frankie may only be twelve, but she’s been through a lot in her life. She lost her dad in an aviation accident when she was six, but she’s repressed a lot of her hurt and sadness because she didn’t have an outlet for it. If anyone asks her she’s always “fine”, but you can’t be fine if your mum always busies herself with work and never talks about your dad. Or if any mementos or photos of him have been packed away for years. It’s also difficult to be “fine” when you never really had a proper sense of closure.
“I remember when Dad was in the paper, when they said Local Man Missing and it sounded like he could have been anyone. When they said Radio contact lost and it sounded like all you needed to do was adjust an antenna and he’d be back again, right as rain.
Later, they said Search Abandoned. Hope lost.
And even the full stops were loud then, like someone was slamming a door in my face, over and over.” (pg. 36)
The news of Skylab re-entering the atmosphere rattles Frankie because the space station and her father are so intrinsically linked. Her dad was a keen astronomer and they watched the launch of Skylab on the night of Newt’s second birthday – that night was also the last time Frankie ever saw her dad.
Exploring this connection further are the chapter interludes Meg has included, each one titled ‘Things That Fall From the Sky’. They start off almost fun in a way, where Frankie talks about a strange story she once saw in Reader’s Digest about fish and frogs falling from the sky. But even that short memory ends on a mournful note as Frankie thinks about how the poor animals must have felt.
“Maybe the flying part would make the landing worth it. That’s what I hope. That’s what I try to believe.” (pg. 15)
These segments are really clever ways to gain a further understanding of Frankie’s innermost thoughts about her dad, but they also weave beautifully into the connection she has with Newt, and how the loss of their dad has impacted on just how responsible Frankie feels for her little brother.
I love the sibling dynamic between Frankie and Newt. The little dude is obsessed with all things science, and quite often becomes so fixated on his various projects that he becomes somewhat oblivious to the world around him. Hence, Frankie is forever keeping one eye on him so he doesn’t walk into a tree while his nose is in a book, or stab himself with wire from one of his experiments he carries around. You can tell that Frankie loves her brother, but she’s also understandably frustrated at times that he gets to behave in his “Newtish” ways and she’s left with the consequences. There are a lot of sweet and emotion-laden moments between them too, though, that are linked to their dad (and one particularly lovely yet heart-squeezing moment that made me cry towards the end of the book!).
There are also a lot of great classroom/school scenes and a really interesting subplot about the intricacies of friendship between Frankie and her best friend Kat. I adored this whole novel & I cannot wait to read more of Meg’s books.