Between Earth and Sky

Written by Amanda Skenandore
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

Amanda Skenandore has hit pay dirt with her debut novel, Between Earth and Sky. At its heart, this luminous book tells a Romeo and Juliet story. But Skenandore’s book is so much more than a simple romance. This novel examines the complex relationship between love and loss, culture and conquest, annihilation and assimilation.

The story begins in 1906 when Alma Mitchell reads in the news that a man she grew up with, Harry Muskrat (Alma knew him as Asku), has been accused of shooting a federal agent and languishes in jail awaiting trial. When she sees this, she immediately convinces her husband, Stewart, a lawyer, to travel to the reservation in an attempt to save Asku. Alma knows Asku could never be guilty of so heinous a crime. She knows because she and Asku grew up together at the missionary school her father ran for Native American children.

Returning to her home brings back memories Alma would prefer to keep hidden, both from herself and Stewart. But seeing her old friend behind bars brings Alma’s secret history back with sudden and heart-wrenching clarity. Told in alternating chapters between the present (1906) and Alma’s past, the truth of who Alma really is gradually reveals itself.

One of the typical problems with a “frame” structure is that the storylines are unbalanced, one being more compelling than the other. Not so, here. Each thread of the plot is balanced, past and present holding a graceful tension. As the tale winds its way to the shocking and heartbreaking conclusion, the meticulous writing and the perfect rhythm of the pace combine to create a true work of art.