On a gloomy winter afternoon, a quiet and lonely 11-year-old named Kara Lukas notices a snow angel by the lake near the Stockholm apartment she shares with her busy mom. Something about it strikes her as strange: There are no footprints anywhere near. Curious, Kara traipses out onto the snow to look more closely. As she snaps a picture with her phone, Kara has the eerie sense someone is watching her.
So begins Stockholm-based Matthew Fox’s evocative debut middle grade novel, The Sky Over Rebecca, which won the 2019 Bath Children’s Novel Award as an unpublished manuscript.
Kara spends her school holiday break exploring her strange discovery by the lake, which leads her to find a girl named Rebecca and Rebecca’s younger brother, Samuel, who is unable to walk. The cold, hungry siblings are camping alone on the lake’s island, so Kara brings them food and an old blue coat that once belonged to her mother. Kara comes to realize the siblings are from a different time: 1944. They are Jewish refugees on the run from the Nazis, hoping to be rescued by a British plane that Rebecca believes will land on the frozen lake.
As the dangers to Rebecca and Samuel in their own time intensify and her friendship with Rebecca builds, Kara musters up courage and decides to do all she can to save them—even if it means taking dangerous risks out on the ice.
Fox’s spare yet lyrical prose is well-suited to The Sky Over Rebecca’s haunting, austere setting and atmosphere. The novel’s stylistic restraint and vividly drawn characters will intrigue young readers and help them easily follow narrative shifts between the horrifying, wartorn past and the less deadly but still frightening present.
The Sky Over Rebecca does not shy away from somber subjects, including death. Fox introduces the terror of persecution in an accessible manner for young readers who may be reading about the Holocaust for the first time. A poignant final twist leads to a resonant conclusion in this memorable first novel.