All Our Shimmering Skies is by Australian author Trent Dalton, who wrote the fabulously uplifting Boy Swallows Universe.
The story of All Our Shimmering Skies was set in February of 1942 in Darwin.
At the time Darwin was extremely remote. The rough manners of the town’s residents were not improved by the presence of soldiers stationed there since the town had become an Allied Base during the War in the Pacific. When the Japanese conducted their first air raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942 they were able to inflict immense damage on the ships in the harbour, the town and the airfields since the town had been very lightly defended.
Prior to the attack, Molly Hook, whose story this is, was a motherless girl living in a derelict house with her alcoholic father at the town cemetery. Molly’s best friend was her shovel, Bert, which she used to dig graves, or to dig up graves so that her father and uncle, the town’s official gravediggers, could steal valuables from the dead.
Before Molly’s mother died, she told Molly about a curse that had been put on her family by Longcoat Bob, an Aboriginal man with supernatural powers. She also told Molly that all of her gifts would fall from the sky.
When the bombs fell, Molly escaped Darwin with Greta, her uncle’s sometime girlfriend, travelling into the deep-country looking for Longcoat Bob, so Molly could ask him to remove the curse. Along the way Molly and Greta met up with Yukio, a Japanese fighter pilot whose plane had crashed and somehow, found themselves on the same side for what came next.
There were similarities between All Our Shimmering Skies and Boy Swallows Universe in that each contained characters who were either very good and completely evil, but with no one who was just somewhere in the middle. Both stories also featured violent, disfunctional families. I disliked the brutality of Molly’s family life which in her case was caused by her father and uncle, unstoppable alcoholics who drank everything from beer to turpentine.
I felt that Molly’s knowledge of literature and poetry was too advanced for her age, given her circumstances and lack of education, and as a result, her tendency to quote English poets and from Shakespeare’s plays became jarring. The storytelling was also somewhat repetitive and eventually I began skimming to get to the end.
I liked the mystical elements of the story, which circled around Longcoat Bob and the Aboriginal characters, and enjoyed the sections that talked about life in Darwin but was unable to care deeply enough about Molly for All Our Shimmering Skies to capture my heart the way Boy Swallows Universe did.