Book Review: We Should Not Be Afraid of the Sky by Emma Hooper

We Should Not Be Afraid of the Sky – Emma Hooper (Penguin, 2022)

A wealthy woman gives birth to 9 identical baby girls. Horrified by the act of giving birth to essentially a litter, she tells her servant woman to take the infants to the river. While two of the babies have died already, the servant decides to let the others live and finds them homes with women from the nearby village. These 7 identical girls grow up in different households with their own parents and siblings but also inextricably linked together, knowing they are sisters. Two die from illness and one moves away from the village with her adopted siblings so that four sisters are left: Quiteria, Marina, Liberata, Basilissa.

Their individual personalities emerge as the book moves between them. Their varying perspectives show their unique viewpoints, even as they experience the same things. These perspectives are not always linear and while the story does move overall forward in time, it takes a loose approach, frequently going backwards so we can see the same timeline from a different sister’s point of view. This always serves to illuminate the action and I never found it hard to follow.

This is a hard book to talk about without giving away some of the action. While I wouldn’t say anything that happens is a twist or unexpected, I also don’t want to take away from another reader’s experience of watching this book unfold. I think I could tell you the basic action of the story and you could still read this and thoroughly enjoy it but it was also nice to know very little about the book when I started it.

Setting wise, the book takes place in an area that felt like the southern mediterranean – hot and dry with lemon and olive groves – some time during the Roman Empire. The rise of Christianity is an important plot point, putting this sometime before Emperor Constantine and the adoption of Christianity as the official Roman religion. Here we see Christians being persecuted and imprisoned and Christianity being viewed as a cult and fringe belief. (I know a little bit about Church history and took some classes in university on Medieval history and this helped a lot in understanding the larger setting of the story; this wasn’t broadly expanded on in the book itself. Google tells me that the story of the 9 sisters is inspired by a legend.)

I read and reviewed Emma Hooper’s previous novel, Our Homesick Songs, in 2018. While Our Homesick Songs had some fanciful moments, it was far more grounded in reality and I don’t remember it playing with form in any particular way. Which book you might like more probably depends on the kind of reader you are. Personally, I would choose We Should Not Be Afraid of the Sky. I loved the historical and ambiguous setting, the medieval history, and the magical realism that is hinted it. I was willing to go with the uncertainty and the fluidity of the plot but I can see how this book wouldn’t work for every reader. I’m excited to see Hooper’s writing change and develop.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: We Should Not Be Afraid of the Sky by Emma Hooper”

  1. I remember Our Homesick Songs! It fell just on the right side of the magical realism-tweeness line for me. Ver interesting that she’s gone on to write something sort of fable-like and historical.

    1. They feel like really different books, which is intriguing to me. I wouldn’t put them together if I didn’t know they had the same author.

  2. I don’t always love these sable/myth-like stories, but I’m really intrigued by the setting and the time period, so I’m tempted by this. I haven’t read Our Homesick Songs but might put this one on my list.

    1. It is a unique setting! Our Homesick Songs was quite Canadian – about the struggle of the fishing industry on the east coast – so this one feels a lot broader.

  3. Now I’m curious as to what the title means. Also, this book review led me down a twenty-minute rabbit hole during which I Googled “Octomom” and where here 8 kids are today. I forgot she had 6 kids before that, totaling 14.

    1. The 9 babies thing seemed so strange and specific that I assumed it was based on some legend. It is though Hooper took some liberties. I didn’t find much more information – like why did this woman have 9 babies? I did learn that in 2021, a woman actually successfully delivered 9 living babies and that it was the first time in history!

  4. This book sounded familiar, but I had no idea what it was about, and after reading your review, now I’m sure I hadn’t even come across a summary of it before, because this I would remember! Sounds like a pretty terrifying and upsetting beginning, I’m feeling overwhelmed just reading about it. Not sure I could handle this one!

    1. I’m sure you’ve come across it – her last book was Giller-nominated, I think, so this has been on the list. I’m pretty sensitive about baby stuff too but didn’t find the beginning too hard to read. It’s kind of just really bonkers and you’re trying to figure it out. But nobody is actively harming the babies. Even the mother seems more confused than hateful, despite her poor reaction. In general, I’m not sure if you’d like this book because I think you appreciate a more concrete plot.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s