Book Review: Ruby and the Blue Sky by Katherine Dewar
Ruby and the Blue Sky is one of my favorite climate fiction novels to date and high on my list for fiction in general. Aside from the obvious appeal for cli-fi readers, it will also have a broader appeal for anyone interested in rock stars, activism, strong female protagonists, and just plain good fiction.
The author handles the recurring theme of climate change and climate action very well. Climate action is central to the plot, so there’s a fair amount of discussion of what the characters are doing in response to the climate crisis. This approach always runs the risk of feeling forced or devolving into a lecture about climate policy. But the first person narrative, robust characterization, and compelling plot all worked together to keep me immersed in the story and involved in the theme without feeling like I was being lectured to.
The use of two narrators was interesting. Most of the story is told in the first person by the protagonist, but between her chapters, there are shorter chapters told from the perspective of the antagonist. I was initially skeptical of this approach because it’s not very common, but I felt that the author used it very well in this case. The result is two very distinct voices telling the story from two very different perspectives. I appreciated the opportunity to see some of the motivations and depth of both characters, although unsurprisingly, the protagonist is the more well-developed of the two. They came together well to tell a single story.
In addition to the climate theme, there’s a whole plot arc that deals with the theme of violence against women and empowerment and healing for survivors. At first, I was concerned that this might be too triggering for some readers and might take the novel in an entirely different direction. Since I’m not a woman myself, I may not be the best judge of how the topic was handled. To me, however, it seemed like it was handled well. The violence was acknowledged, but the emphasis was on empowerment and healing, both for survivors and for their friends and families. I thought it was a very meaningful and personal exploration of the theme. Hopefully it will be healing rather than triggering for readers who are themselves survivors.
Ruby and the Blue Sky is a great example of a novel that tells a nuanced and compelling story, populated with interesting characters, who happen to be grappling with their personal and collective responses to the climate crisis. Any reader could pick up this book simply because they wanted a good read, and walk away from it with some significant food for thought about global warming. That strikes me as the type of climate fiction that may have the greatest impact in the long run. Casual readers will pick it up because they’ve heard it’s a good story and find themselves wondering if they should take any climate actions of their own.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that the approach the characters take to climate action would be an effective approach for the real world. But it’s an approach that I can easily see people trying. It also got me thinking. Would it actually be effective? If not, what would work better? What would I do differently? These sorts of questions lead to productive thinking and dialog on the subject. They also show that I enjoyed the novel enough to take it seriously and really think it over. Those are both good signs of a good novel.
I definitely recommend Ruby and the Blue Sky to everyone who enjoys good fiction. If you have a special interest in climate fiction, then you’ll definitely want to read this book.