This book is a beautifully written, heartbreaking story of how a teenage girl copes in the aftermath of her adored older sister’s disappearance. Whilst the mystery of what happened to Olivia is a theme throughout the book, it is not the most important one for me. Instead, it is a story about how a family claws their way slowly back from the brink of self-destruction, and how a younger sister who worshipped her sibling adjusts to becoming the only child. As all of Alex’s relationships break down around her, the friendship she forms with DI Birkens is particularly touching as they slowly help each other find their way home.
Gomes’ descriptions of Orkney draw you in and really make you feel that you are right there on the island. Alex’s love for the island is clear from the outset, whilst Olivia’s feelings of claustrophobia, both at being trapped on the island, and in the choices she has made, is almost palpable from the short entries told from her perspective. These extracts also provide some valuable details that only Olivia would know, and show just how much she was hiding, and how badly she wanted to reconnect with her sister.
Although initially I did not see the connection between all the blackbirds falling from the skies of America at the same time a young woman disappears on Orkney, as the story unfolded and Alex’s description of how the birds in the sky reminded her of Olivia’s dancing, the symbolism of these two unrelated events became clear.
I did work out what the situation behind Olivia’s disappearance was before it was revealed in the book, but I do not think that writing a great mystery was what the author had in mind. This book goes much deeper than that, and it will be a while before the emotions of the story really leave me.