While I don’t read many historical fiction books written based on US history I do have a fascination for tales of the American West. Particularly Native American history. I was happy to accept a free copy of Between Earth and Sky by Amanda Skenandore from TLC Book Tours for my honest review.
About Between Earth and Sky:
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Kensington (April 24, 2018)
In Amanda Skenandore’s provocative and profoundly moving debut, set in the tragic intersection between white and Native American culture, a young girl learns about friendship, betrayal, and the sacrifices made in the name of belonging.
On a quiet Philadelphia morning in 1906, a newspaper headline catapults Alma Mitchell back to her past. A federal agent is dead, and the murder suspect is Alma’s childhood friend, Harry Muskrat. Harry—or Asku, as Alma knew him—was the most promising student at the “savage-taming” boarding school run by her father, where Alma was the only white pupil. Created in the wake of the Indian Wars, the Stover School was intended to assimilate the children of neighboring reservations. Instead, it robbed them of everything they’d known—language, customs, even their names—and left a heartbreaking legacy in its wake.
The bright, courageous boy Alma knew could never have murdered anyone. But she barely recognizes the man Asku has become, cold and embittered at being an outcast in the white world and a ghost in his own. Her lawyer husband, Stewart, reluctantly agrees to help defend Asku for Alma’s sake. To do so, Alma must revisit the painful secrets she has kept hidden from everyone—especially Stewart.
Told in compelling narratives that alternate between Alma’s childhood and her present life, Between Earth and Sky is a haunting and complex story of love and loss, as a quest for justice becomes a journey toward understanding and, ultimately, atonement.
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About the Author:
Amanda Skenandore is a historical fiction writer and registered nurse. In writing Between Earth and Sky, she has drawn on the experiences of a close relative, a member of the Ojibwe Tribe, who survived an Indian mission school in the 1950s. Between Earth and Sky is Amanda’s first novel. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Connect with Amanda
Alma is a young, seemingly perfectly proper married woman living in Philadelphia with her husband. Her life is all buttoned up until she reads an article in the paper about a young Indian named Harry Muskrat who has been charged for murdering a Federal Agent. She knows this man though; her father ran an Indian Mission School and Harry was one of the students.
She convinces her husband, who is an attorney, to head out to help Harry because she knows the boy that she knew could never kill anyone. Her husband is confused at her urgency but he loves her so he makes the arrangements. Soon he has contacted the appropriate people and they are on the way. What he doesn’t know is why Alma is so compelled to help.
As Harry’s story advances in the novel’s present, Alma’s story and that of the Mission School is being told in flashback. We learn how Alma met the children and how she perceived their entry into her life and how they felt about being sent to the school.
As the facts of the current situation on the Reservation come to light and the murder of the Agent is solved Alma comes to hard realizations about what she thought she knew about her upbringing.
This was an excellent book dealing with a difficult topic. The way this country treated the Native Americans was egregious. The Mission Schools in particular; taking children away from their parents and stripping them of all they are, then forcing them into a Euro/Christian mold. Ms. Skenandore doesn’t shy away from the more difficult aspects of her story. She shows the naivete of Alma as she thinks that they are truly helping the Native Children, to the barely concealed hatred of those children as they are forced to give up everything they know. Alma’s reckoning is sharp and hard – both of them actually. For there are two, many years apart.
This is a very intense book and not always easy to read but as with any topic covering the worst of our history it should be read and we should learn from it so as to not repeat the mistakes. Although I sometimes wonder if we are capable of learning. This is one of those books where you forget you are reading because the words on the page are so magical you just find yourself within the story. The descriptions are such that you feel what is happening – good or bad.
I’ve not cried while reading in quite a while and this book made me cry. To pull me out of the real world and into the story like that is a special kind of writing.
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