Recommendation Tuesday: Skyscraping by Cordelia Jensen
Cordelia Jensen's debut novel first got on my radar thanks to Stasia Ward Kehoe's guest post for our Verse Week celebration this year. While I don't read all the blogs, it seems like it's not received much attention and I'm here to remedy that, because folks, Skyscraping is a special book.
I coined the term "nostalgia lit" on a podcast episode a couple years ago, and I'm generally a fairly reluctant about books set in near history, but Skyscraping is a wonderful example of this particular almost-contemporary setting.
Set in mid-1990s during the AIDS crisis in New York City, high school senior Mira has her life in the city planned out: graduate, go to school at Columbia where her dad teaches. One day her world is shaken when she walks in on her father in bed with his male graduate assistant, discovering that her parents have an open marriage and that her father is bisexual. Except that's not his only secret. He's also been hiding that he's HIV positive.
What unfolds is a beautiful, emotive story about family, and truth, and forgiveness, perfectly suited for the verse novel format. The verse style reads almost like vignettes, which make the 1993-94 school year the story follows fly by (I read Skyscraping in an evening), but Jensen also breaks up the story with creative uses of white space that force the reader to linger (such as below). It's just beautifully done.
The verse format also bolsters the vibrant New York City setting, a New York that's still gritty, grimy and raw. (The first time I went to New York it was 1996, and the setting felt very familiar.) Jensen's writing is so descriptive--though carefully abbreviating--that you can almost hear and smell New York in the pages. Seriously, it's stunning.
Honestly--like I said on Twitter--literally my only complaint is that Jensen plays a bit fast and loose with the timeline of the introduction of the Frappuccino. I loved how much she was able to pack into a novel with relatively few words--we get complete stories not just for Mira, but for her sister--who develops an activist sensibility, her mother--who has a very authentic backstory, and James, her father's lover. It's kind of a marvel how tightly-written this story is.
Even if you don't normal gravitate toward verse novels (and really, verse novels are the best), Skyscraping has a lot to offer: wonderfully-constructed characters, a vibrant setting, and one of the more nuanced depictions of family I've read in a long time.