Carry the Sky

Carry the Sky by Kate Gray

Carry the Sky by Kate GrayNamed one of 11 must-read books set in high schools by Bustle Magazine. A Kindle bestseller in the literary gay/lesbian fiction category. A Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Book Club pick. The November 2014 Another Read Through Lesbian Book Club Pick. 

Kate Gray takes an unblinking look at bullying in her debut novel, Carry the Sky. It’s 1983 at an elite Delaware boarding school. Taylor Alta, the new rowing coach, arrives reeling from the death of the woman she loved. Physics teacher Jack Song, the only Asian American on campus, struggles with his personal code of honor when he gets too close to a student. These two young, lonely teachers narrate the story of a strange and brilliant thirteen-year-old boy who draws atomic mushroom clouds on his notebook, pings through the corridors like a pinball, and develops a crush on an older girl with secrets of her own. Carry the Sky sings a brave and honest anthem about what it means to be different in a world of uniformity.

ISBN: 978-0-9882657-6-9

On Sale: September 1, 2014

Pages: 318

Category: Fiction

Advance Praise

“In the rich rarified world of a prep school, Kate Gray has woven two powerful personal stories into a charged and compelling human novel which shows us that swimming under that quirky, antic, off-beat community are also life and death. Gray has a sharp eye and tells her story with verve and a deft touch.”

– Ron Carlson, author of The Signal and A Kind of Flying

“Lyrical, moving, and hauntingly beautiful, Kate Gray’s Carry the Sky winds between two voices, Taylor and Song, both navigating the narrow lanes of St. Timothy’s boarding school where they teach, both hitting the walls that surround them. One uses science to make sense of loneliness, loss, and desire—the other uses the beat of a rower’s oar in water. Together these two outsiders struggle to move past mourning, to seek hope as they crack open their insular world. Carry the Sky is full of unforgettable characters and images, each word carefully chosen, like a perfect fold in a paper crane, creating a graceful neck, strong tail, and mighty wings, perched on the edge of the page, ready to take flight.”

– Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief and co-founder of One Story

“A splendid debut novel, beautifully written and brimming over with humanity and grace, alternately humorous and heart-wrenching.”

– Christopher Buckley, author of But Enough About You 

“Set in a boarding school in 1983, Carry the Sky is a haunting exploration of loneliness, grief, and desire. In lyrical, elegant prose, Kate Gray spins a tale of characters struggling to forgive themselves and to find each other, and reminds us to pay attention to the ordinary and unexpected flashes of beauty around us: a brilliant kite, geese overhead, a paper crane in a tree.”

– Carter Sickels, author of The Evening Hour

Carry the Sky is as intricate and precise as the paper cranes its characters fold. It comes as no surprise that Kate Gray is a poet as well as a fine novelist. Here we are surely in a poet’s hands, her lyricism and attention to detail elevating the boarding-school narrative to something heartbreaking and truly universal.”

– Cari Luna, author of The Revolution of Every Day

“In the small, close world of a boarding school, three broken people circle each other, drawing closer to the tragedy that will move them all, finally, beyond their private sorrows. Three voices, three stories, and we are caught up in those stories as they are slowly revealed, like shards of a shattered mirror, one piece at a time. There is huge humanity in this novel. It is shockingly beautiful. Kate Gray is relentless.”

– Joanna Rose, author of Little Miss Strange

Carry the Sky is a dazzling narrative mosaic about innocence lost, the ghosts we grieve, and the emptiness of some forms of discipline and delineation. Kate Gray gives us a ‘page-turner’ in the best sense: you’ll want to read both fast and slow, moving back and forth through this fearlessly told story, savoring.”

– M. Allen Cunningham, author of The Green Age of Asher Witherow and Lost Son

“The people in Kate Gray’s intricate, visceral, and heartbreaking novel Carry the Sky armor themselves. Cocooned in sport, science, sex, power, privilege, or eccentricity, they face the fragility of their invented safe spaces when love, sex, violation, and obsession strip them to their most intimate selves. I can’t say enough good things about this sizzling, deeply profound, poetic work.”

– Davis Slater, author of Selling Sin at the Hoot-Possum Auction

“In Carry the Sky, two lonely hearts beat: Taylor Alta’s in time to a coxn’s chant, and Jack Song’s to the mathematical pulse of physics equations. Both are misfits in the moneyed, J. Crew world of St. Timothy’s, an exclusive New England boarding school where the privileges of the old boy network threaten to trump right and wrong. This smartly told story kept me turning pages late into the night, and reaching for the book as soon as I woke up. Kate Gray’s prose sings as she gives us schoolyard bullying, unrequited love, unresolved grief, adolescent desire running amok, and adult desire scarcely contained.”

– Stevan Allred, author of A Simplified Map of the Real World

The book includes a conversation between author Kate Gray and Jeb Sharp, producer of PRI’s “The World.”


Gray’s dreamy, poetic language perfectly captures the languor, the sudden bursts of pain, the slow, subtle drowning that an isolated young adulthood can be. Taylor, an elite college rower, sees her world in terms of rowing and the crew team, while Song frames his in physics and the sciences, but neither is able to carry these models outside of themselves, apply them to the wider world in a way that brings them comfort, makes true sense. And neither knows quite what to do about a cruel case of bullying they observe among their students.”

– Julia Fine, Necessary Fiction

Narrated in alternating chapters by veteran physics teacher Jack Song and first-year rowing coach Taylor Alta, Carry the Sky, which will be released next month by indie publisher Forest Avenue Press (hooray for indies!), offers a gut-wrenching look at life at a prestigious Delaware boarding school from the teachers’ perspectives. At the start of the school year, Song and Alta are both reeling from tragedy: Song’s sister Kim has died of a rare blood disease while Alta’s best friend and fellow rower has recently drowned in the Schuylkill River. But there are more tragedies for them to face from the students they care for, and subsequently let down. The beauty of the language as the novel grapples with layers of grief is one of the best parts of this book — not surprising from an award-winning author of three collections of poetry. Many books about high school deal with bullying, but few explore the ramifications as deeply as Carry the Sky.”

– Melissa Duclos, “11 High School Books That Will Take You Back to the Schoolyard,” Bustle

Gray brings together a plethora of issues and mixes them in a way that’s believable and natural. Identity crises, taboo relationships, teenage angst, and both sides of the bullying equation blend together seamlessly with loneliness, white privilege, otherness, and even a surprising amount of science, which is what Song uses as a lens to look at and try to understand the world. All these elements come together because there’s pain and loss that serves as glue.”

– Gabino Iglesias, That Lit Site

Gray is a poet all right—a fierce one, a smart one, a writer who knows her rowing, her rivers, the claustrophobia of boarding school bullying, the ache of loss, Physics, and origami. She tells her story through the alternating voices of a Delaware boarding school’s new rowing coach and the Physics teacher—both of whom are operating within a haunted psychic space. She tells her story with urgency and with details—physical and emotional—that are wholly unexpected. No cliches here, not in this urgent novel.”

– Beth Kephart, author of Small Damages

Carry The Sky is hands down one of the best books I’ve read recently. It captured the intensity of school bullying without victimising the victim. It took hold of my spirit and wouldn’t release me until weeks after the last page.”

– Jess, The Lesbrary

It all rings true and the writing just flat out soars. I related to the way one character works things through with physical activity (rowing–sidebar, I learned that the author is a serious cyclist, taking it up since rowing) while another uses the black and white absolutes of science to attempt to stay grounded. The best writers find it a bit of a magic act balancing humor and heartbreak without showing how the trick is done. That being the case, this book is seamless sorcery. It rings true, raw and it will crush you. The best debut novels always do.”

– Joe Kurmaskie, book reviewer and author of Metal Cowboy

“Gray’s poetic sensibilities crystallize in her prose. Under her careful hand, wild curls become a mask, hope is personified in the ‘sunflower face’ of a friend, and a lone goose in the sky evokes a blend of longing, loneliness, and loss. Often, her carefully rendered imagery and symbols purposefully repeat throughout the text, calling back to and layering on top of each other, slowly building mood and meaning.”

– Alicia Sondhi, reviewer, Foreword Reviews

For all Jack Song’s concern with honor, it is Kyle who feels like a moral axis. Secrets and injustices drive the story (as does the insider’s look into the world of competitive rowing; Gray is a former crew coach). Yet Kyle is the only character who keeps no secrets, and is unable or unwilling to be anyone except himself, even when it earns him brutal retribution from the school bully. He harms no one, and he felt sometimes to me like an existential ideal: a fully aware, moral being who chooses what customs to follow, and who sees his own life as a choice. It’s a painful irony that in choosing nonviolent retaliation, the people who end up suffering most are himself and the people who loved him.”

– Author/reviewer Sarah Cypher

“Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, suddenly or as the result of illness, or the loss of our true selves in order to conform to others’ expectations, all loss is painful and deep. Kate Gray’s stunning debut beautifully shows us that grief is the great equalizer of our shared human experience.”

– Edee Lemonier, The Reading and Writing Cafe

Links to Coverage

11 High School Books That Will Take You Back to the Schoolyard,” Bustle

ForeWord Reviews

Kate Gray interviewed on KBOO

The Portland Mercury’s list of Oregon authored books

Clackamas County Review

Lambda Review list of September books

Ut Omnia Bene: Laura Stanfill on folding cranes for the cover

We Wanted to Be Writers

Writing Under Pressure interview with Kate Gray

Necessary Fiction

Rose City Reader

Review by author Sarah Cypher

Listed in Publishers Weekly’s bullying special section, October 2014

Review by Jackie Shannon Hollis

Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s Book Club pick

Another Read Through bookstore’s Lesbian Book Club pick for November 2014

That Lit Site review by Gabino Iglesias

Beth Kephart: Introducing a New Indie Press and a Debut Novelist

The Lesbrary

Late Night Debut Carry the Sky podcast on Late Night Library


  1. Marlene Broemer says

    On tenterhooks until the book appears!

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