When Skies Have Fallen: Deb’s best book to date
I wasn’t going to review today. I was going to tell you all about my experiences from Munich and EuroPride Con, the first ever. Then I was going to tell you about my latest discovery on Netflix, Sense8, and then I was going to review Deb’s latest book. But then I read it, and it would’ve been a gross misconduct NOT to post this review the minute I could (and I’m still in recovery mode with my laptop so give me credit…)
I happened to come across a review of this book on Facebook and was intrigued. Then I had to wait another 24 hours before I could buy the book, and I got to read it on my flights to and from Munich. I hadn’t been up in the air for more than ten minutes that tears were rolling down my cheeks and I was contemplating how to review it. When Skies Have Fallen is amazing penmanship, as you can expect from Debbie McGowan. But this book resonates with me on a plane none of the others have.
See, when you realize you’re “not like the others”, as Arty does at the beginning of the book, looking back on his youth, as he sets eyes on the handsome American soldier Jim, it calls forward so many memories, images, and so much pain, that it draws tears even as I write this. When Skies Have Fallen is like this from page one to the very end.
But first things first. When Skies Have Fallen is the love story of Arty and Jim, and as such it is fairly straight forward. But what this book is really all about is using their fairy tale to tell the struggle of the early LGBT civil (human even) rights campaign in Britain until the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1967, at least in England and Wales. Believe it or not, had I been born in Britain, I would’ve been born criminal. Puts an interesting twist on the “original sin”, don’t you think? Lucky for me, I was born in Switzerland, where homosexuality was made “legal” in 1942. I was merely considered “mentally ill” at birth. Makes you feel so much better, doesn’t it?
In the day and age of Alan Turing and the film about his fate in the cinemas, I hear excellently portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, When Skies Have Fallen, takes a similar scenario, World War II, soldiers, and survival, but does so by not using one of the world’s most brilliant scientists, but two ordinary men, and their friends.
And I wept, and I wept, and then I wept some more. The flight attendants and the purser on my flight back home (I was sitting in row 1) were giving me worried glances all the time, as my cheeks were glistening from salty tears and my eyes puffy and red. I know of course that most people will read this book and see a beautiful romance, set against the backdrop of the second world war and the decades to follow. But for someone like me, who’s gay, and who’s old enough to have witnessed the emotional turmoil that Arty and Jim have to go through, the accusations, the loss, the lies.
You see, Arty and Jim are from a generation between that of my grandparents and my parents, they could still be alive and would be in their late eighties now. So they’re almost twice my age, and while it was (as I said) perfectly legal to be a homosexual when I grew up, we were still ostracized every step of the way. When I was in middle school, we were warned of the only gay junior high teacher, a “dirty old man”, even though he was barely thirty. From what I hear, the man is still living with his partner. So far from a dirty old man, even now that he is “old”.
A couple of weeks ago, on June 26, we celebrated out biggest (?) victory to date, as the entire LGBT population of the U.S. got the right to marry, but still, just because the law says one thing, people’s attitudes are far from accepting. When I was warned of the dirty old man, being gay had been “legal” for more than thirty years. In America you can get married, but you can also be fired from your job for it. And while two-thirds of Americans approve of marriage equality, there are also some – albeit few – but very vocal opponents, some of them very powerful. And all you have to do is look at the civil rights movement from the early sixties to realize that even though it’s been almost six decades since, the confederate flag is still used as a vocal and highly present symbol to remind the black community that “no, you’re not like us, and you never will be”, a sign of warning to the LGBT community, never to give up, never to relax. The struggle goes on.
When Skies Have Fallen serves as a reminder to our community. What is a romance novel to the vast majority of people is a priceless gem, a beacon of light, a ray of hope to those of us who love unconditionally, whoever that person may be.
Debbie McGowan, thank you, from the bottom of my heart for this unique piece of literature! There aren’t enough stars to paint the skies with to adequately represent what this book means to me.
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You all have a wonderful week!
PS: While I can upload this review to Goodreads, I cannot do so to Amazon, thanks to their “fucked up” policy that we may not review our friends’ work… Well, this is a small world, and a small industry, and many of us know each other, and we sometimes review each other’s work. The above is a true and honest reflection of my sentiment, even though I know Debbie personally. It should not influence my ability to review her work, as long as I’m up front and honest about it. If you agree, please sign this petition to have Amazon change their policy! Thank you.