Nina Kiriki Hoffman's A Fistful of Sky has widely drawn comparison to Ray
Bradbury's From the Dust Returned, and for good reason. Both novels feature
supernatural clans but are narrated by more prosaic young people who are
outsiders even within their families; both are highly evocative in their
descriptions of the singular family homes they feature; both are by turns funny,
horrifying and warm.
A Fistful of Sky, the narrator is LaVelle family outsider Gypsum. Born into a
clan that flourishes in the more or less prosaic setting of Southern California,
Gypsum is the only child in her family who hasn't "transitioned" -- gone through
a serious illness that leaves a person with some kind of magical ability, if it
doesn't kill them -- by adolescence. Tormented by her generally well-meaning
siblings, and on one memorable occasion even by her beautiful but vain mother,
she has resigned herself to a life of ordinariness, believing she's taken after
her ungifted father. She's a fan of comfort food (and it shows), and has become
by default the family cook. Her job as a tutor at the community college is a
welcome diversion, but she simply has no idea where she will go from here.
Then one weekend when the rest of her family is out of town, Gyp gets sick. A
family friend helps her through what seems to be a really bad case of the flu,
but when it's all over Gyp feels... different. She has transitioned -- late --
and her power is one of dubious value: she has curse power, but her good-natured
instinct to simply not act on that power won't work. To stifle the power would
cause it to eat away like cancer at her insides to the death.
So with the rest of the LaVelles patiently enduring her magical slip-ups,
some of which are comic (like the giant growling grapefruit that takes over the
kitchen) and some that are more sinister (like the ancient spirit that becomes
her doppelgänger, teacher, and power siphon), Gypsum learns to deal with an aspect of herself she thought she'd never see ripen.
And she comes of age in more ways than magically; she has her first real
boyfriend, and she gets a glimpse into the private fears and threads of love and
power that bind her family together.
Hoffman's previous work has garnered her a Bram Stoker Award for First Novel (for The Thread That Binds the Bones) and nominations for the World Fantasy and Nebula Awards (for The Silent Strength of Stones), and the quality that drove those nods is plainly evident here.
This story is as much about the ties that bind family and the exhilarating but
frightening process of becoming an adult as much as is it is about magic,
well-told on all fronts and especially notable for the strength of its