Review: Between Sea and Sky

Written by Nicola Penfold, Cover art by Kate Forrester, Published by Little Tiger on 8th July

Between Sea and Sky is a profound, powerful and thought-provoking story set in a dystopian future where Earth has been devastated by an environmental catastrophe in a period known as The Decline when the land had been flooded and poisoned.  The habitable land has been split into districts which must follow strict rules, enforced by Central District, including a one-child policy; control of resources and food; and, strict punishments, meted out by peacekeepers, for even minor infringement of rules leading to ‘civil disobedience points’ which could lead to internment on a prison ship at sea.

Thirteen-year-old Nat lives in one of these controlled districts, in a concrete and steel compound on metal stilts, along with his scientist mother.  Whilst taking part in a dare to climb an unused windmill and plant a flag, he witnesses two people collecting something on behalf of Central.  On further investigation, he makes an exciting discovery, a discovery that brings hope of the longed-for Recovery.  Nat knows that he should hand over his find, but instead he makes a decision that could put both himself and his mother in great danger …

Meanwhile, Pearl and her younger sister, Clover, live on a floating oyster farm at sea.  Their mother got sick whilst working on the land, and has died, leaving the girls in the care of their grieving father.  When not helping on the farm, the girls spend their time mud-larking, making wishings using their finds, and swimming with their porpoise friend, Grey.  Pearl blames the land for her mother’s death and is suspicious of ‘landlubbers’.  However, her ten-year-old sister is desperate to go to school on the mainland and find new friends, but this could see her taken from her family as she is an illegal second child. 

Pearl, Clover and Nat are brought together when Nat and his mother are sent by the District Controller to spend the summer on the oyster farm, investigating the viability of another food source.  Nat brings his secret find with him and soon shares it with the sisters, but this knowledge may well lead to great danger, danger that risks everything they hold dear …

This is an incredibly vivid evocation of a society and landscape that is fighting to survive years after an ecological cataclysm.  At its heart, it is the story of three children battling for freedom, battling to allow nature the opportunity to renew, and battling to bring about change. 

I absolutely adored all three children who are so well-developed as characters that I was completely invested in their lives and desperate for a better future for them.  I loved how the relationship between Nat and Pearl developed which felt completely natural as they are wary of each other at first, but gradually find a wonderful, supportive and trusting, friendship. Pearl is incredibly protective of her younger sister and is determined to keep her safe; having outsiders encroach on her home makes her angry and frustrated as she fears she may lose her sister.   I loved both the fragility and strength in Pearl as well as her spirituality evoked through her wishings.  Clover is just gorgeous:  inquisitive, kind-hearted and honest with real joie de vivre. 

This is an engrossing ecological story, told from a dual perspective, that heartachingly portrays the devastation caused by environmental catastrophe with its impact on both the landscape and survivors, but there is also a heart-warming message of hope, that nature will fight for survival and find a way to regenerate if only it is given a chance.  Another resounding hit from Nicola!

Thank you to Little Tiger for providing me with an early copy in exchange for my honest review.

This is my third book for my 20 (10) Books of Summer Reading Challenge which is hosted by Cathy Brown on her blog at

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