Contemporary YA Reviews #1: Searching for Sky by Jillian Cantor & The Minnow by Diana Sweeney

August 18, 2014 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 4 stars, Books, Reviews

Contemporary YA Reviews #1: Searching for Sky by Jillian Cantor & The Minnow by Diana SweeneySearching for Sky by Jillian Cantor
Published by Bloomsbury Australia on July 3, 2014
Source: Publisher
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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River means everything to Sky. They have lived alone together on Island for as long as they can remember. The two of them hunt for food, wash in Falls and curl up together in Shelter. Their life is simple and safe. Until River sees a boat . . . 

Across Ocean is California, a place where nothing makes sense to Sky. She is separated from River and taken to live with a grandmother she doesn’t know. Lost and heartbroken, Sky searches for him so they can return to Island, only to find out that their paradise wasn’t as perfect as she thought, and everything she’s ever known and loved may have been a lie.

A gripping and beautifully told story of love and survival in a hostile world – ours.

Searching for Sky contains an intriguing ‘reverse dystopia’ concept, where a girl who has lived on an island her whole life is rescued and returned to civilization, and everything is new to her. While it was explored with beautiful writing and creativity, what I didn’t expect was how much it was going to punch me in the gut with feels.

Searching for Sky is undoubtedly the saddest book I’ve ever read. The psychological damage and trauma both Sky and River experienced upon removal from their home on the island was explored fully. This shit is intense and no glossed over Jungle Book, and I had to put the book down at several points during the story because it was just so sad. It reminded me of taking animals out of their natural habitat and putting them in a cage or a zoo, which struck home just how difficult it would be.

I don’t need anyone else, I remind myself. River and me. Me and River. Shelter and Falls. The sky and the stars. Ocean and Fishing Cove. That is all I need. All I am. 

When Sky and River are ‘saved’ and returned to civilization, the stark contrast between our modern world and the island was done extremely well. Sky doesn’t know anything aside from what’s on the island, so she refers to everything as wood, leaves, rabbit pelts or coconuts. She has no idea what everything else is and refers to the toilet as the Bathroom Tree and bandages as leaves. Getting off the island is only the beginning, as she needs to be taught the very basics of living in our modern world, such as using the toilet, washing her hands, and using utensils to eat. She could not read or understand the words people were saying, and it was like a child waking up as a teenager, and is assigned a therapist and a teacher who frustratingly don’t understand her circumstances at all. I mean, how do they expect her to read when she doesn’t even know what half the objects are around the house?!

Awesome. It sounds like a silly, empty word. The words we used on Island had meaning. Fish. Water. Shelter. Falls. Spears. Fire. Everything meant something. Everything in our world was useful. 

And that’s only the beginning, because the whole back story as to why she was raised on an island with River and why her mum and his dad were together is completely gut wrenching, disturbing and tragic. While watching Sky adapting to the world with her grandmother and her new friend Ben was difficult enough, then we will see the disturbing fate of River as a son of a criminal and it is oh so terrible.

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The beauty in Searching for Sky is that it explores some of our follies of human nature in depth. How people are judged by association. How they may only sympathise with your circumstances, but not really seek to understand them fully. How people’s fates may be entirely out of their control and be subject to the cruel ways of life. It is a thought provoking book that I would recommend to everyone, in the way that it makes us think.

Searching for Sky is one of the most unique books that I’ve read, but also one of the saddest. The exploration of an island girl and boy returning to civilization was done fantastically and realistically. The things that will happen in Searching for Sky are confronting, heavy and will completely rip your heart out, and will affect you in a profound way.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. 

The Minnow by Diana Sweeney Review: Beautiful, unique and diverseThe Minnow by Diana Sweeney
Published by Text Publishing on May 28, 2014
Genres: ContemporaryYoung Adult
Source: Publisher
Purchase: Amazon |

Tom survived a devastating flood that claimed the lives of her sister and parents. Now she lives with Bill in his old shed by the lake. But it’s time to move out—Tom is pregnant with Bill’s baby.

Jonah lets her move in with him. Mrs Peck gives her the Fishmaster Super Series tackle box. Nana is full of gentle good advice and useful sayings.

And in her longing for what is lost, Tom talks to fish: Oscar the carp in the pet shop, little Sarah catfish who might be her sister, an unhelpful turtle in a tank at the maternity ward. And the minnow.

The Minnow is a moving and powerful coming of age story with a whimsical element that belies the heartbreaking truth of grief and loss. Tom is a character you will never forget.

I have just finished reading The Minnow, and I still have no idea what I just read. The Minnow was absolutely beautiful, in the way it presented the story that could have potentially torn us to pieces. But it was so unusual in the way that it was told, it kind of detracted from that grief, trauma and sadness.

Tom is a 15 year old girl who is pregnant, from the result of sexual abuse from an older man. She has lost her parents and sister recently to some floods, but her sister and her grandpa are both very present characters in the story. That’s because Tom sees, hears and interacts with dead people. Don’t try and figure out who is actually physically present and who is not, because it’s all fair game to Tom. She’s also incredibly endearing with the way she uses a word of the day and refers to her dictionary and thesaurus throughout.

“Profound?” he said. 
I could tell he was irritated with the word, but I didn’t care. I love it. I also love the word ravenous, but profound is up there as one of my favourites. So I let it hang. 

Which lead me to think, that Tom is a complex, strong and disturbed girl, especially after everything she’s been through. That thought made me sad, and as I progressed through The Minnow, it stuck with me. For most of the book, we read Tom’s innermost thoughts and the way she relates to the world around her. Throughout the book, she will bring up things that seem to be relatively literal to her, such as a girl Anabel being a mermaid with fish scales on her neck, and being able to talk to turtles and fish. That’s where the whimsical part comes in.

The Minnow is literally Tom’s unborn baby in the book, who has her own voice and speaks to Tom during her pregnancy. In a way, having The Minnow kind of distracted Tom from all of the other problems around her, and symbolised love after loss.

Just like me, Jonah has only one living relative. “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” says the Minnow. 

Then comes the confusing part. The book is really hard to follow in linear progression, it will switch randomly from different events through the past and the present. You will be reading one thing, where Tom is in hospital because she’s giving birth, then every new paragraph will be something new. I found the switching around to be confusing and hard to follow, which didn’t help my enjoyment of the book.

There are some absolutely beautiful character relationships here, such as the one with Jonah, Tom’s wonderful, non-judgmental and supportive best friend. He sticks with Tom all the way through her pregnancy with The Minnow, and even takes care of the baby afterwards. And they don’t end up a couple just for caring for each other – as Jonah turns out to be gay. I’m not quite sure why two minors were allowed to live together alone though, which seems to be a massive loophole. The way Tom relates to her Nana in a nursing home, and her dead grandfather or ‘Papa’ is also quite touching.

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The Minnow is a beautiful, touching, and unusual book about grief, teenage pregnancy and coping with loss and life. It’s told in a strange whimsical manner that jumps around the past and the present, which is confusing. It’s one of the most unique books I’ve ever read, which isn’t a surprise why it’s won the 2014 Text Prize. I loved the diversity and the beauty within the book, which packs a punch in its short length.

Rating: 4 out of 5

I received this book from Text Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

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Jeann is an Aussie blogger, gamer, reader who loves to read, write, fangirl, geek out and eat food. You can find me glued to one of my many mobile devices 24/7, or fangirling over the latest YA book, TV show, movie or game. Chat with me on Twitter @happyindulgence

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48 responses to “Contemporary YA Reviews #1: Searching for Sky by Jillian Cantor & The Minnow by Diana Sweeney

  1. I just finished Searching for Sky. It tore me apart. It was so, so sad. I loved it, but I hated it ended. It was so unfair, but I guess real life is unfair. I felt for sky so much and her grandmother made me so mad!

    I read the Minnow a while a go an loved it. It certainly was strange and a little confusing, but it was written beautifully.

    Great reviews, thanks for sharing 🙂
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  2. That is a really great review of Searching for Sky, Jeann! I didn't really feel the same about it, wasn't touched by it like you were, but I can intently agree on the fact that the way Sky and River's return to civilisation was dealt with was really hard. I found the way people just didn't listen and even at times seemed like they didn't want to understand anything other than their side of things was awful, and that was probably the most poignant part of the story for me.
    Romi recently posted…The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen…My Profile

  3. Glad to hear Cait, the jumping timeline was quite confusing. But I'm so glad I had that Aus YA Bloggers thread to refer to after reading it. I thought of naming it the "SAD YA Books" But then I didn't want to read a whole lot of other sad books as well! Haha yes, they are more memorable aren't they.

  4. Thank you lovely, I just couldn't believe how heart wrenching Searching for Sky was, and it just kept on spiraling into this black hole! Oh my gosh.

    The Minnow was really beautiful and I'm glad I got to read it as well. Even though it was confusing at times lol

  5. I haven't read The Minnow yet, so I'll focus my comment on Searching for Sky and probably come back to comment again on your review of The Minnow once I've read it if that sounds okay with you. 🙂

    I absolutely loved Searching for Sky too! Like you said, it was SO original and heartbreaking. I think the biggest strength of the novel was that you could really sympathize for Sky – even though you've never been in her situation.

    It reminded me of taking animals out of their natural habitat and putting them in a cage or a zoo, which struck home just how difficult it would be.

    I never thought of it that way Jeann, but you're absolutely right. I think this is the best analogy to the story I've read in a review so far, and I completely agree.

    Thanks for sharing, and BRILLIANT reviews! <3
    Zoe @ The Infinite T recently posted…The Girl With All the GiftsMy Profile

    • Of course it's okay Zoe, I loved how you used the blockquote in your comment, so pretty hehe! Glad to hear that is an analogy you could realise with the story. No problems hun!

  6. Wow, lovely reviews! I've heard of Searching for Sky & was intrigued. Now after reading your review, I'm more intrigued! I like weird & unusual books sometimes, but Minnow may be too weird for me. Not sure I'll try that one! Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  7. Umm wow. The Minnow sounds amazing and I HATE that it's only available in Australia. I get the feeling that Tom is kind of like an unrelateable narrator and that just makes her sound a lot more interesting. I really do want to know her story.

    Searching for Sky on the other hand will be something I will avoid. It sounds amazing and I know Faye adored it but it sounds too heart wrenching for my fragile heart. .-.

    I am glad you ended up loving both of the books and that they moved you in their own way!

    Lovely reviews, Jeann!! 🙂
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    • Thanks Rashika, hopefully it does get released outside of Australia, because it is an amazing book. Tom was really interesting and she kind of pulled it off you know? Oh yes, I read Faye's review which prepared me somewhat for the heart break.

  8. Awesome reviews Jeann, so glad you enjoyed these both more than I did. The Minnow, the writing was just divine, so whimsical. I found myself a little lost at times reading that one too, I think it's one of those books that will be interpreted differently depending on each reader.

    Searching For Sky, I loved it on the island but as soon as they left for the mainland, I just didn't understand the hype. I think it definitely needed two points of view throughout to be able to have a real connection for me.
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    • Whimsical indeed, I had no idea what was happening but enjoyed the ride anyway. With Searching for Sky, it definitely did change a lot once she got off the island. It was SO SAD.

  9. You are very lucky for being able to read two wonderful contemporaries, Jeann. Did you read these two in succession? Searching for Sky seems like a Tarzan retelling because Sky and River grew up in a jungle on an island only that their existence was a really miserable one. Sad stories really stuck, don't they? And reverse dystopian? This is the first time that I've heard of the term.

    As for the Minnow, wow… just wow. It's not only sad but very disturbing. I hope that the man who did it got his comeuppance. It is always a very painful thing to read about pregnant teenagers. It's even more painful if it has been caused by rape. Gaaah. The author was really brave for making a story that covers such sensitive issue.

    Lovely review, Jeann!
    Charlotte @ Thoughts recently posted…Book Review: On The Jellicoe RoadMy Profile

    • Thanks Charlotte, yup I read them pretty close together, not knowing they were going to be super sad reads! The Tarzan retelling sounds quite close, except it wasn't a jungle but on an island. Yeah, it's an interesting term but really apt for how they described the book. Oh The Minnow, it was really painful to read about but Tom was such a great character, even though she was kind of weird. Thanks Charlotte!

  10. I'm inclined to read this one Jeann because it's unusual and I love stories like that, even though it might have been disjointed at times from the random switching. But you mentioned the beautiful character relationships and Tom's ability to have conversations with The Minnow. There's just something about this story that appeals to me even though I'm not a fan of stories with sexual abuse. *shudders*

    Lovely review! 🙂

  11. I have to admit I've only heard of one of the books your reviewing here and that's Searching For Sky! I started reading it a few months ago but had to DNF it about 30% In. While I loved the reverse dystopian aspect of the book I wasn't a huge fan of the narration or the characters. It just wasn't a "Lily" book 🙁 I'm glad you were able to enjoy it though and I've added it the other book you reviewed to my goodreads TBR 😉
    Lily recently posted…Stolen Songbird (The Malediction Trilogy#1):ReviewMy Profile

    • Welcome to the world of dystopians Carmel, you've got an exciting road ahead of you! I love them, but I kind of binged on them too much. Searching for Sky was so unique, with the way they described it.

  12. While both books look really good, I have to admit that I'm more intrigued by Searching for Sky. I love the idea of a reverse dystopian world and the emotional depth that the book had. I think I'm going to really appreciate that especially. I'm worried about it being too sad though because you know how I feel about sad books.

    Still, I like the sound of it. Also, how gorgeous is that cover?

    As for The Minnow, wow! Tom sounds like she's such a strong character with everything that she's going through. If I were in her situation, I would be in shatters.

    I need to check out both these books.

    Lovely reviews, Jeann!
    Nick @ Nick's B recently posted…Review : Feuds by Avery HastingsMy Profile

    • The cover is totally gorgeous, hopefully it means more people will pick it up and think of giving it a go. It's a unique concept and definitely SUPER SAD. Tom was a really amazing and strong character. Thanks Nick!

  13. Searching for Sky definitely has my attention now! I remember looking at the US cover and thinking it was just a contemporary romance novel, but it's ACTUALLY NOT! And also the Minnow looks really cool, but I don't think I'm interested in something that deep. I might pick it up if I see it at the library! As usual, great reviews Jeann!
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  14. Brilliant review, master of reviews! I have to admit that Searching For Sky disappointed me in more ways, but it still was okay and enjoyable either way. It sure is unique and thought provoking, which are one of the things I did like about this. I think that I'll have to pick up The Minnow, though! Diversity? Beautiful character-relationships? I'm in!

    • Awww, thanks Mich! Glad to hear you love the sound of The Minnow, I can see why it won the Text Prize. A shame Searching for Sky disappointed you, it was a simple concept but WOAH went so far!

  15. So many sad books today Jeann! I've got Searching for Sky to read next for review and I'm just not ready for the emotional rollercoaster ride just yet!!! It's cool how you put it as a reverse-dystopian, I never thought about it that way but it kinda is! I think it's scarier to go in reverse. I've also heard some good things about The Minnow! Short books that can pack a punch are the best!! Lovely reviews xx
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    • I know, I should have named it the "Sad contemporary YA edition!". Yeah, picking up Searching for Sky when I did just made me SO sad, it was heart breaking~! It was definitely scary especially for the two characters. Thank you hun!

  16. You say the saddest book and you've got me. I love sad books therefore I'll have to get Searching for Sky right away. Also I like the idea of reversed dystopian. I haven't read anything like that and it seems really intriguing.

    The Minnow sounds really interesting and I love how it's written, but I always have issues with teen pregnancy in books so I avoid it. Great reviews, Jeann 🙂
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  17. I haven't read either of these books, yet, but I've seen their titles and covers floating around the interwebs for quite some time. I think I'll definitely have to read both of them sometime, as they both seem quite appealing. The covers, too — especially Searching For Sky — are gorgeous! Anyway, wonderful reviews.
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  18. Oh I absolutely agree with your thoughts for both of these. I had a hard time following The Minnow sometimes…especially the jumping timeline and then THAT ENDING. Actually these are both beautifully written books with sad endings. What is with that?! Authors enjoy torturing us. 😉 Okay, okay! I complain but I secretly love these kind of endings. Great reviews, Jean! Absolutely spot on!
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  19. Totally agree with BOTH of these reviews! I loved Searching for Sky and I agree – it was so, so sad. Not in a crying way, exactly (not for me) but Sky's situation was so desperate that I felt for her SO much. And the ending. Oh my goodness.

    Then The Minnow…I've never read anything like it. Text has some really amazing books and I feel so lucky I got a copy for review! You're right, though, some of it was extremely confusing. And I still have no idea what happened in the ending…maybe I should re-read it haha.
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