When the Sky Falls

Phil Earle

Inspired by a true story.

I’m a big fan of Phil Earle’s writing, so when I won a signed copy of When the Sky Falls I couldn’t believe my luck – this book has received so many positive accolades from well-renowed children’s authors and quite rightly so.

This is a powerful and moving story full of raw emotion. A story of two people who have lost everything and suffered the most unimaginable grief but together, with the help of a mighty beast, learn to love again.

It’s 1941. War is raging and one angry boy has been sent to the city, where bombers rule the skies and death and destruction dominate the landscape. Unable to cope with his unruly behaviour since his dad marched off to war, Joseph’s grandmother has packed him off to live with Mrs F, a gruff woman with no fondness for children. Her only loves are the rundown zoo she owns and its mighty silverback gorilla, Adonis.

Joseph must earn his keep. This means hard labour mucking out the few remaining animals in freezing conditions and on the most meagre of food rations. And if life wasn’t hard enough, Mrs F insists Joseph should attend the local school with a handful of other children, however this exposes the fact that he is unable to read. Classroom bullies quickly pick up on this and it’s not long before Joseph’s anger gets the better of him and his fists do the talking.

Although not explicitly mentioned in the book, it’s clear Joseph’s difficulties are due to Dyslexia. No matter how hard Joseph tries, the words dance on the page and unfortunately in the 1940s, there was little understood about the condition. Children such as Joseph were often thought to be lazy and in heart-breaking scenes, we see Joseph brutally punished and humiliated at the hands of despicable Head Master Gryce, adding to his misery and suffering.

Joseph keeps himself safe in the only way he knows – by putting up barriers and shutting everyone out. Talking about his feelings is too painful and even when he works up the courage to ask for help, the words just won’t form. All he has ever known is rejection and so he pushes away any small gestures of kindness. But Joseph finds an unlikely connection in the majestic and somewhat deadly silverback. Adonis proves that love can blossom in the unlikeliest of places and teaches Joseph to trust again.

As the weeks pass, bonds deepen and secrets are revealed, but if the bombers set Adonis rampaging free, will Mrs F or Joseph be able to end the life of the one thing they truly love?

The true story that Adonis’ plight is built upon is absolutely remarkable. I’ll let you read about how the book was born in Phil’s Author Notes but Mrs F and Jospeh’s impossible decision is made all the more heart-wrenching when you’re turning the pages knowing that elements of it actually happened in real life.

Gorillas are considered highly intelligent. They are able to laugh and develop strong family bonds. They are also observed to grieve, and we see Adonis’ pain in the story is palpable.

Although the story is unapolegitically gritty and harrowing, Phil Earle’s trademark wit and dry humour peppers the plot and shows where there is darkness, there also must be light. The overwhelmingly positive character of Syd, a schoolgirl turned zoo keeper that Mrs F has taken under her wing, also sows seeds of hope in Joseph’s misery. The setting is so vivid and the characters so real and down-to-earth that by the final pages they feel like family. Mrs F is outstanding. Despite her own suffering, she manages to make space in heart for Joseph and when the sky falls for him, she’s there to hold him up.

When the Sky Falls has won a place on my bookshelf and in my heart alongside some of my favourite wartime stories such as Goodnight Mr Tom, The Midnight Guardians and The Valley of Lost Secrets. It already feels like a classic and I’m delighted I was fortunate enough to enjoy an early copy.

When the Sky Falls is published by Andersen Press (3rd June)

About the Author

Born and raised in the north of England, Phil is the author of over twenty acclaimed, award-winning books for children and teenagers. He has worked as a carer, a dramatherapist, a bookseller and a publisher, and loves talking at schools and festivals around the world. He lives on the side of a very steep hill with his partner, their five children and two dogs.

I’m a huge fan of Phil’s work and his ability to write so effortlessly for children of all ages. Here are two recently published books by Phil I also thoroughly enjoyed:

To read my review click here

To read my review click here

3 thoughts on “When the Sky Falls

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