• When the Sky Falls

    03 April 2021

    I've been a fan of Phil Earle's work for a long while now, and ten years after Being Billy marked him out as a top author in the YA field, When The Sky Falls should catapult him into a whole new league. It's a book that's going to win awards and reach a huge audience, and the world at large is going to discover what those of us already in the know have been aware of for the past decade -- that Phil Earle is a must-read author.


    The book opens on a train station in London during the Blitz, with loads of children boarding a train out of the bombs-ravaged city, to seek shelter and safety in the countryside. It's a scene that's been covered in many books before, but here it's completely turned on its head, because instead of focusing on the kids who are leaving, it zooms in on Joseph, a 12 year old boy who is moving in the opposite direction, and has actually COME to London to live.


    We know from the start that Joseph is a troubled boy, but his full story unweaves slowly over the course of the book, as do the stories of Mrs F, the owner of a zoo who takes charge of him and sets him to work trying to find food for its starving animals (including a majestic but sad gorilla), a girl called Syd who befriends him despite all his efforts to push her away, and Adonis, that sad gorilla who is at the heart of the unfolding narratives and heart-wrenching finale.


    This masterful study in loss and redemption is a book strongly influenced by Kes and The Machine Gunners (I love the little knowing nod to the latter), but the style is all Earle's own, and it ends up sitting proudly by those two fore-runners, as an equal. It will make you weep more than once, and you're going to be biting your nails as it draws towards the climax, but ultimately it's a work that will make your heart sing.


    This is the work of a writer at the top of his game, and it's going to be one of the best-received books of 2021 when it goes on sale in June. My advice is to get your pre-order in quickly, ahead of the rush, so you can be among the first to experience its wonders.


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