A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. ★★★1/2
A Fistful of Sky is meandering but enjoyable story of Gypsum LaZelle, who thought she was the only one of her siblings to not have magical powers. In the LaZelle family, most children undergo a transition in their teens. They fall sick, and when they recover they will have a magical talent. Gyp watches her four siblings all go through the transition. By the time she’s twenty, she’s resigned herself to being normal.
Then, when the rest of the family is out of town, Gyp goes through the transition. But her late transition is a sign of curse powers. Her powers are malevolent and difficult to control, but Gyp must use them or be torn apart by the powers within her.
A lot of A Fistful of Sky is about the LaZelle family. There are a few non-family characters, most importantly a strange spirit Gyp encounters with her powers, but the family predominates among the cast. Gyp’s father was the only other non-magical family member, and she worries about her gaining powers changing their relationship. Her siblings would often play pranks or inflict casual cruelties upon her with their powers, and while they all love each other and get along much better as adults (or near adults), she can’t help but remember the past. Gyp’s mother is controlling and focused on appearances to the detriment of her children’s health or happiness. There’s a hair raising sequence about when her mother decided Gyp was getting too fat as a child and cast compulsion spells that ended with her in the hospital. Still, I’d give A Fistful of Sky points for actually portraying Gyp’s relationship with her mother when so many other books kill the mother off or have her absent.
There’s a lot about A Fistful of Sky that’s unconventional or strange. The ending is very ambiguous and there’s a lot that’s left uncertain (what is going on with the ocean and the sounds Gyp hears?). The principals of magic usage aren’t strongly delineated either but remind me somewhat of books by Diana Wynne Jones. Also, there’s something that could be considered a spoiler for the romantic ending, so skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know. Ready? Okay, there’s a reason this book ends up on LGBT lists. That’s all I’m saying.
Overall, the best thing about A Fistful of Sky was its compelling portrayal of the LaZelle family dynamics. I would recommend this one to people looking for offbeat contemporary fantasy or coming of age stories.