I was drawn to the beautiful cover art on The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward but I knew I had to read it when I read the publisher’s brief description. This may be the timeliest novel I’ve read in a long time. It’s a story told by two families on opposite sides of a heavily guarded border. It’s a tale of people trying to do the right thing and to better themselves despite overwhelming odds, of what it means to be family and, bottom line, what it means to be human. Keep a box of tissues handy because you might need some before you finish reading this very moving novel. I know I did but then you know what a mush melon I am. I’m delighted that we have a copy to provide in a pay-it-forward giveaway that one of you will win, so be sure to enter!
Alice and Jake own the best BBQ restaurant in Austin, Texas. Alice, who’s originally from Colorado, could not have told you much about barbeque when she met Jake in college but she’s since learned a lot. Barbeque has been the mainstay in Jake’s family for generations, with his dad and uncle disagreeing so much about it that they opened rival BBQ restaurants. Yep, BBQ is a hotly debated subject in Jake’s family and one they take very seriously. Alice loves their roadside BBQ joint and she loves Jake’s dedication to making the best BBQ despite the long hours slaving over the smoker to ensure the meat gets just the right crust.
But there is a thorn in this relationship that’s eating at them both in different ways. Alice can’t seem to get pregnant, despite some pretty intensive help from state-of-the-art procedures. Being a mother means more to her than anything and, ironically, she can’t seem to conceive and their latest adoption attempt fell through when the biological mother changed her mind. That was the last straw. To have a baby and then have it taken away was too much to bear. It’s making Alice nuts and that’s making Jake nuts. And it’s beginning to take a toll on their relationship.
“When I handed Principal Markson her Sweet Stacey sandwich (chopped beef, sausage, and coleslaw on a soft bun), she peered over her glasses for an extra moment.
’Alice,’ she said, pushing the burgundy frames back into place. ‘what in heaven’s name are you doing here? Is the baby in the back somewhere? Asleep in a nest by the smoker?’
‘The adoption didn’t work out,’ I said, the simplicity of my words belying my mangled heart.
‘Oh,’ said Principal Markson. ‘Oh, Alice, I’m so sorry.’ She held her paper bag in one hand and her phone in the other. The phone buzzed, but she did not look away from my face.
‘Well, you know…’ I said, but could not think of a way to finish the sentence.
‘I’m so sorry,’ repeated Principal Markson.
‘If you want, I can give you back the sweater,’ I said, my voice wavering as I pictured the small garment, which Principal Markson had knitted herself.”
Alice tries to sublimate her need to mother by helping a troubled teen and Jake tries to sublimate his need to be a parent by getting a dog. Deep down, though, they both know that is not going to be enough. But what can they do? Is this the universe’s way of telling them they shouldn’t be parents?
Carla is an eleven-year-old girl living in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She hasn’t seen her mother since she was five. That’s when her mother left her and her twin baby brothers to cross the border into America to try to earn enough money to keep them alive. Ever since then, Carla and her brothers have lived with her grandmother. Carla’s grandmother was a wonderful woman who made Carla feel very loved and taught her valuable lessons about right and wrong, and about having faith. She’s now passed away and Carla is lost without her. A few years before her grandmother died, a man showed up and took one of Carla’s little brothers with him. His twin, Junior, is completely lost without him and has become listless in his intense grief.
Her grandmother said Junior’s twin was going to live with their mother in Texas but Carla doesn’t know if he made it there. Too many bad things happen in Tegu and children are stolen regularly by dishonest men who promise families one thing but then turn those children into slaves or prostitutes. Carla dreams of also going to live with her mother. It’s the only thing that’s keeping her going. Despite her mother sporadically sending them small amounts of money, they have very little food and their clothes have become rags.
Tegu has become more violent and poverty stricken since Carla’s mother left, something no one believed possible. Gangs of robbers attack and murder people in their homes, including Carla’s teacher and his wife, who they believe might have any small thing of value that could be sold or used. Carla knows because she saw the bodies.
“Our teacher and his wife were dead, lying next to each other on the kitchen floor. The robbers had taken everything in the house. My teacher, like me, had a mother in America, in Dallas, Texas, a gleaming city we had seen on the television in the window of the PriceSmart electronics store. The point is – our teacher had many things – a watch, alarm clock, boom box, lantern. Luckily, our teacher did not have any children (as far as we knew). That would have been very sad.
Humberto cried out when he saw the bodies. I did not make a sound. My eyes went to my teacher’s wrist, but his watch was gone. His wife no longer wore her ring or the bracelet our teacher had given her on their one-year anniversary. The robbers had taken our teacher’s shoes, shirt, and pants. It was strange seeing our teacher like that.”
Children don’t have childhoods as we know them in Tegu. Carla’s best friend Humberto has begun scavenging in the dump with his family to find things they can mend or eat. It’s a horrible way to live but they have to do it to survive, and he brings her little things he thinks she might like. Humberto has offered to marry her and urges her to scavenge through the dump with him for things of value that can be sold or traded.
Carla is determined to get to the U.S. to find her mother and Humberto is too afraid to leave Tegu. She also doesn’t want to marry so young even though she knows many girls who have just so they can survive. She can’t imagine having a child when she’s still a child and she knows that if she does then she will be stuck in Tegu’s downward spiral for the rest of her short life. So she scrounges and she plots how to escape. All she wants is to be reunited with her mother and for her and her little brother to be safe. To do that she is willing to risk both of their lives if she must, because she knows they will literally not live to become adults if they stay in Tegu. Can Carla find a way to get to the U.S.? Will she and Junior survive the trip? If they make it, what will happen to them? Will Carla ever see her mother again?
Alice is an adult who wants a child badly and Carla is a child who has been to a large degree abandoned by her mother out of extreme necessity. You might think that is what this story is all about – and you would be wrong. It would be a lovely fairy tale to believe these two would miraculously find each other and live happily ever after. But life isn’t like that and neither is this novel. This story is far more complex. It is, however, told from both Alice’s and Carla’s perspectives. Do the two stories converge? Of course they do because otherwise those two separate narratives wouldn’t make sense. You will have to read the novel to find out how (I’m evil that way).
Alice and Carla are both courageous in their own ways. They have both experienced profound disappointment in their lives but have stayed to a large extent hopeful. They both take enormous leaps of blind faith, trusting it will all work out the way it should in the end. I can’t tell you the number of times I just wanted to give each of them a huge hug. I’m not a person averse to taking risks; however, there were times when I gasped at the risks being taken and the courage it took to make those leaps. The bottom line is that these are two pretty amazing people.
Amanda Eyre Ward spent about a year listening to the stories of immigrant children in Texas and California shelters, and those stories inspired her to write The Same Sky. The extent of her research is evident when reading Carla’s part of this story, which paints an all too vivid portrait of what life is really like for children who are so desperate that they’re willing to take what they know will likely be a deadly trip to the U.S. In other words, knowing you will die if you don’t make it across the border must seem an acceptable risk if you know you will soon die anyway. See why this is such a timely novel? I’m recommending this novel for anyone who wants to learn more about child immigration, or just wants a heartfelt read.
Can’t wait to read it?
The Same Sky was published on January 20, 2015, so it’s available from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). Although it’s also available in print and as an audiobook, if you download it as an e-book then you can have it to read instantly!
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One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance readers copy) of The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward!
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