Book Review | A Sky for Us Alone by Kristin Russell

A Sky for Us Alone was among my most highly anticipated books of 2019. I knew, from the second I read the synopsis, that I’d want to read it. Let’s talk about whether it lived up to my expectations.

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

In Strickland County, there isn’t a lot of anything to go around. But when eighteen-year-old Harlowe Compton’s brother is killed by the Praters—the family who controls everything, from the mines to the law—he wonders if the future will ever hold more than loss. Until he meets Tennessee Moore.

With Tennessee, Harlowe feels for the first time that something good might happen, that he might’ve found the rarest thing of all: hope. Even as she struggles with the worst of the cards she’s been dealt, Tennessee makes Harlowe believe that they can dare to forge their own path—if they only give it a shot.

But as Harlowe searches for the answers behind his brother’s death, his town’s decay, and his family’s dysfunction, he discovers truths about the people he loves—and himself—that are darker than he ever expected. Now, Harlowe realizes, there’s no turning back.

A powerful story of first love, poverty, and the grip of the opioid crisis in the rural South, Kristin Russell’s gorgeous debut novel asks a universal question: When hope seems lost, are dreams worth the risk?

Opioid Struggles

One of the aspects that’s at the forefront of this novel is the struggle with opioids. It’s sad, and makes this story feel really real. Especially because the drug use hits so close to home for the main characters.

The thing is, even though I read the synopsis and knew the story would deal with the opioid crisis, I still expected it to be meth that got Nathaniel killed. (Call this residual effect from All the Ugly and Wonderful Things). This story felt like it could actually happen and it’s one of the main things I liked about this debut novel.

From there it went south.

Character development

While the characters were believable, I felt they lacked depth. I couldn’t really picture them because they weren’t really described. In fact, aside from context, I didn’t even know Harlowe was FOR SURE a male character until about 25 pages in. Tennessee has blond hair and tanned skin and maybe some freckles – I have no idea what color her eyes are because I can’t remember if it was stated. Harlowe has red hair, but we don’t know that until almost the end. I don’t need crazy character descriptions, but I at least like to be able to picture them. I couldn’t.

Mama Draughn is probably the most stand out character in the book. She’s the only one who didn’t fall flat and literally lives up to her Mama nickname. She is the caretaker of this novel and helps not only Harlowe when his mama goes through her drug struggle, but also Tennessee and Omie when they have their issues with their daddy.

Also, I’ll just say this – one of the more unbelievable aspects of this story is the second straight up murder. There’s no way the person who killed the other person did it because of what happened to him earlier in the book. (Names redacted – NO SPOILERS).

Concluding thoughts

My expectations were high for this one because of the synopsis. While we did gain a little closure at the end of the story, the true end of it was heartbreaking. All Harlowe’s hope that was built up over the course of the novel was completely shattered. I didn’t like the ending. I get that first love is rarely last love, but for this one, I expected it to be.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was well written for a debut and a pretty easy read despite the heavy material. I would buy another of Kristin Russell’s novels should she write more.

However, because of the lack of character depth, I found myself struggling to really get into this book as much as I get into most books. I didn’t really fall into the story like I would if I were able to picture the characters. This, for me, is a big deal breaker in books and therefore I had to lower my rating.

Rating: 🌟🌟💫

Like I said, I would read another of Kristin Russell’s novels, but this one fell a little short for me. I thought it was a great principle on which to build a novel and enjoyed some aspects of it. My question for you is, have you read any other novels that center around the opioid struggle in the south? Drop your recommendations in the comments.