Between Earth and Sky

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 27 Apr 2018

Member Reviews

Between Earth and Sky by Amanda Skenandore portrays a fictionalized account of the sad history of Tasunka Ota "Plenty Horses" from the Lakota tribe. In the misguided attempt to assimilate Native Americans, homes and families were destroyed. Children were uprooted from their traditions and thrust into a world that would not accept them no matter what the assimilation lessons. Evil was perpetrated purposefully, but also a tragedy was allowed to happen and enabled by those with seemingly good intentions. A powerful message. 

Read my complete review at  

Reviewed for NetGalley
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I love books that explore Native American culture, especially seeing as it's so strongly a part of my family history. This was a beautifully and thoughtfully written story. I look forward to hopefully more from this author.
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Alma's father runs a school that tries to teach Indian children how to live in white society. She grows up with all the students being her friends and learns much about their language and customs. 
When Alma is older and married, she gets her husband to help one of the former students who is being charged with murder.
The author does an excellent job of explaining the situation the Indians are trapped in, and how they are affected by the school. It sickens me because I know this and worse actually happened throughout history.
My grandmother's mother was a full blooded Native American, who along with her siblings was removed from her family. These children were placed in white families and had no idea of their past or where they came from. We have no idea what tribe or state my great grandmother belonged to. There is a huge piece of our history that is missing. It disgusts me how Native Americans have been treated throughout time.
This book is very well researched and written. I think a lot of people probably don't know that these types of things happened to Native children.
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Amanda Skenandore has written a beautiful historical fiction debut! I can't wait to see what's next!
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4.5 stars, rounded up to 5
An absorbing and powerful work of historical fiction.

Between Earth and Sky transports the reader to a time most history classes skipped over. The strong opening promises more. “Her past arrived that morning on page ten, tucked between a crosshatched cartoon of striking trolley workers and an advertisement for derby hats.  INDIAN MAN FACES GALLOWS FOR MURDER OF FEDERAL AGENT.”  

I am pulled into this mystery, love story, growing up story/ tragedy about Native American boarding schools. Alternating between the 1880s and 25 years later, we follow lonely 8-year-old Alma as her religious father starts a boarding school in Wisconsin. “’We’re their salvation.’ Her father’s voice hummed with excitement. ‘Here they shall be reborn, civilized and good.’” 

Descriptions are vivid, but never overdone. “The sun beat off their beautiful brown skin, and their laughter lingered like drifting milkweed seeds in the air.” Appropriate for the time, Skenandore’s strong characters see things in Red and White. Miss Wells, the teacher, addressed the class. “Thanks to the beneficence of the United States Government, you have the opportunity to fully immerse yourselves in civilized culture and to wash away the sins of your former existence.” 

Indian culture comes alive through the recurrent use of native names and terms. The night forest scene where the Indian children dance and celebrate reverberates with energy and new understandings. 

Amanda Skenandore visited our neighborhood book group! She shared how the story started with an old photo of a uniformed Native American child hanging on a casino wall. Between Earth and Sky is an awesome choice for all readers and book groups, as it has many types of conflicts (cultures, parent-child, society and expectations, among friends, among spouses, moral conflicts, keeping secrets.) It’s one of the very few books this avid reader has read twice and loved both times.  

Thank you to NetGalley, the author and publisher for granting access to an arc of this book for an honest review.
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tl;dr Review:

A nuanced and page-turning story about a time period within America's history that's rarely discussed.

Full Review:

"Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."

That's a quote that gets thrown around a lot these days, but rarely in reference to parts of history that few people actually know much about. This book covers a time in our history that to be completely honest with you, I didn't even realize existed until I was in law school. Beginning in the 1800's, increasing significantly after the Civil War, and continuing into the twentieth century, these schools sought to take Native Americans from their reservations (willingly or unwillingly) and assimilate them into Western culture, beliefs, and language. These Native American Boarding Schools often pushed this assimilation by "forcibly removing Native Americans from their families, converting them to Christianity, preventing them from learning or practicing indigenous culture and customs, and living in a strict military fashion." This led to the loss of a variety of traditions, practices, and even languages over time.

The reason I'm explaining all of this is because this book that I'm reviewing, Between Earth and Sky by Amanda Skenandore, uses this time as a backdrop for her story that looks at exactly how these schools impacted individual lives.

I was at first somewhat reluctant to read this tale. While the Publisher's description sounded engaging, it wasn't something I particularly connected with right off the bat.

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.

I figured it was the retelling of a "white savior" come to fix everything with maybe some acknowledgment of the harm done.

Thankfully though, this book surprised me by being much more nuanced than I originally gave it credit for. Not only was the story written in such a way as to keep you turning the pages until the end but it also served to ignite my interest in discovering more about this time in our history that is frequently glossed over, if discussed at all.

If you're looking for a read that illuminates an oft-forgotten part of America's history intertwined with an emotional narrative that is equally surprising as it is compelling, then this is the book for you.

I give it 4.5 out of 5 thumbs up.
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This book was a slow starter for me but I'm glad I stuck with it. It turned out to be an important, well-rendered story that focuses on the deeply discriminatory, heartless, disastrous and long-lasting consequences of "well- intentioned" whites who aimed to "kill the savage to save the man" at Indian schools across the nation. The author captures the horrors of stripping generations of native American children of their culture, their families, their native wisdom and, ultimately, their sense of self and their places within their culture. This narrative provides a glimpse at the impact of this assimilation strategy and the ruthless, illegal and highly discriminatory treatment of Native people that continues to echo today.

This is also a coming of age story for the main character, Alma, a white girl who grew up at an Indian school,  was befriended by the Native students, fell in love with one of them and is haunted by the consequences of her love. And, as an adult, learning the painful lesson of the importance of true self determination.
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Between Earth and Sky by Amanda Skenandore was an emotional, heartbreaking, gut wretching, page turner read for me.  A story that left me thinking about it for many days afterwards. 

When Alma was a young girl she attended a boarding school, run by her father. The Stover School’s purpose was to assimilate children of Indian reservations into white culture. Alma, the only white student, becomes close friends with the other students. As an adult, Alma learns that one of those close friends is accused of killing a federal agent. Alma begs her husband, Stewart, a lawyer, to help defend Harry. The story is told in present time and flashbacks to Alma’s time at Stover. As the story progresses we get a sense that something happened at the school that caused Alma to leave and never return until now. Though I wouldn’t really call it a plot driven book I couldn’t put it down. I had no idea what had happened at the school that caused Alma to leave her family and never return and I felt an urgent need to know. The characters felt real and developed. I understood the things they felt and I felt pain right along with them, and I sobbed right along with them. I loved the growth of Alma as she makes discoveries about what the school’s objective did for those students. 

I love historical fiction and learning about events in the past. I knew of schools that were set up to “tame” the “savage” children. Between Earth and Sky not only expanded that knowledge but made it more personal and heartbreaking. It told a side to the issue of assimilating a people into a different culture that I think applies even today. 

I truly loved this book. It was gut wrenching in parts but it left me with a reminder that I am no better, or worse, than anyone else.  A story about a time when a group of people, a race, thought that anyone not like them was worthless. A reminder to me that though circumstances, details, etc may be different those things still exist. A reminder to me that though others may look different, act different, live different, believe different, they still deserve respect from me. What I loved so much from this book is that these are the things I felt after reading it. I never felt that the author had an agenda, that she was trying to get me to feel these things. To come away with these lessons learned. I never felt the author was trying to make a point. The book was just a story about people. I was able to come away with what I wanted from it.
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Rating:  3.5 stars rounded up to 4 stars.  

This book by Amanda Skenandore is told in alternating timelines.  One is set in the 1880’s in Wisconsin, and the other is set in 1906.  As a seven-year old, Alma moves with her parents to rural Wisconsin when her father becomes the Superintendent at the Stover School for Indians.  She is an only child who has been schooled by governesses up to this point in her life.  She is excited to get to go to school with other children.  But the adults immediately try to make her very aware how different she is from the other children.   She doesn’t see any difference between her and the new Indian students, and desperately longs to make her first friends.  She watches as the Indians are treated cruelly.  For instance, they are severely punished if they don’t follow directions spoken in English, which is a language that they don’t understand.    

The other storyline is set in 1906 and starts in Philadelphia when a grown and married Alma Mitchell reads that one of her best friends from the Indian School is scheduled to be hanged for murder.  Her friend Harry Muskrat (or Asku as Alma knew him) has been charged with the murder of a federal Indian Agent.  Harry was the most promising graduating student in her class.  She can’t believe that he’s guilty of the murder.   So she convinces her husband, who is a lawyer, to set out with her to the Indian reservation to help clear Harry’s name.

The story told from the schoolhouse days were gut-wrenching.  It was hard to read the things that were done to Indian children in the name of Christianity and ‘civilization’.  My grandparents went to a Deaf School in Idaho as young children around 1919, and they told similar stories about how their language (sign language) was ripped from them, and they were punished if they were caught signing.  I had a lot of compassion for the Indian children, and the stories while hard to read, were not far-fetched.  Alma has also kept a huge secret from her school years that is slowly teased out as the years pass in the Indian School timeline and it converges with her present day.

The 1906 timeline takes Alma and her husband to the reservation where some of the now adult school children live.  Alma finds appalling conditions, and a federal system that cheats the Indians of land, food, resources and dignity at every opportunity.  Alma and her husband try to recreate what happened the day the federal agent was shot in order to go back to court with that information to defend Harry.

While both of the alternating stories were pretty bleak, they were told in an expert manner.  I didn’t feel like the Indians were exploited in this story, and I didn’t feel like Alma was simply a bleeding heart.  She had normal human compassion, which was apparently extra-ordinary for the day and age that she lived in.  I hope that we have come further in our acceptance of those who differ from us, but some days I have my doubts.  I recommend this book if you’d like to read a well-written story about one of the less honorable eras in America’s history.   

Thank-you to NetGalley, Kensington Publishing, and the author, Amanda Skenandore, for providing a free ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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4.5 Stars

Oh my gosh this book broke my heart. 

There’s a lot in American history that we don’t talk about. It’s skimmed over in school or a pretty or patriotic spin is put on it. In the 1800s the US was busy assimilating Native Americans into their culture, forcing them to dress like them, talk like them, and act like them even though none of the indigenous people expressed a want of this. 

Skenandore exposes this time in history. Between Earth and Sky follows Alma going from her past as a white child in an assimilation boarding school to the present (1906) where one of her beloved childhood friends, Henry (or Asku), has been charged with the murder of a federal agent. 

Although Henry’s arrest is the catalyst for this story, it is really about Alma coming to terms with what happened during her time at the boarding house and the treatment of Native Americans. 

I am glad to have found a historical fiction book that touches on this time period and these events. It wasn't always a comfortable read (how could it be when you hear of some of the atrocities committed against Native Americans), but it was enlightening and heartfelt.
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Between Earth and Sky is a pretty good read. I look forward to more by Amanda Skenandore  in the future. I give it 4 stars.
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I received this from in exchange for a review. 

Alma Mitchell revisits her childhood in Minnesota when her school friend Harry—or Asku, as Alma knew him— is accused of murdering a white man and faces execution.

This book has a plodding pace but offers a thorough examination of the treatment of Native Americans as they are forced to assimilate into white culture during the late 19th century. 

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I so appreciate receiving this review copy.  I absolutely adored this book .  This is a sweeping historical tale of the intersection of Native American and White culture.  It is told with reverence to both cultures, beautifully told and draws the reader into the narrative.. The protagonist is torn between the two worlds. Learning about this time in history is something everyone should study. As part Native American I truly enjoyed how sensitive the author was to Native American history and how she detailed the story so well. 
Thank you for the review copy which does not influence my review. My opinion is my own. I highly recommend this book.
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Interesting read on the removal of American Indian children from reservations and their families to Indian boarding schools. Reformers felt that schooling them into the mainstream of American life would remove the savagery within the tribes, however it had the opposite effect where they were left without an identity. The story is told from the perspective of Alma the daughter of the well intentioned schoolmaster.
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One of the things I like best about being a NetGalley reviewer is that it exposes me to authors and books I would have never come across.  Between Earth and Sky is one of those precious gems.  Amanda Skenadore's writing provides an accurate portrait of Native American boarding schools in the late 1800s.  In the character of Harry Muskrat she questions the impact of forced assimilation on one's self-identity.  A heartfelt story that brought me to tears.

A warm thank you to NetGalley, Kensington Publishing and Amanda Skenadore for giving me the opportunity to read this book.
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This is a stunning and harrowing book, which looks at America’s attempt to ‘civilise’ the Native Americans during the 1800s. Told through the eyes of a young white girl, Alma, who grew up saw no difference between the two races and believed they could be friends. She believed in the propaganda of the time that through this re-education Native America and White America could live together in harmony. This book tore me apart and one I won’t forget for a long time.

This story is way more complex than I originally thought it would be and it was a story I had trouble putting down. There were a quite a few days I went to work sleepy, as I’d spent most of the night reading.

Skenandore has this beautiful narration style. It’s told in two timelines. The first when Alma is a child growing up in the boarding school in the last 1800s. Where the second timeline is set in the early 1900s when Alma is a married woman who’d all but turned her back on her childhood until the newspaper heading grabs her attention.

The way Skenandore is able to show these two stages of Alma’s life without getting the reader confused takes some serious talent. Not once did I get confused between which Alma was telling the story. Each chapter is signposted but towards the end, I will admit, I skipped over them to find out what was happening. Each narrative has a distinct voice that is similar enough to feel like the same person, which left me in awe. I was able to fully sink into the world and get wrapped up Alma’s life barrelled towards the climax.

The mystery of the book lies in the event that causes Alma to change from a happy, optimistic child to the closed off adult who we see faking most of her everyday actions and words. You can feel the tension rising the closer you get to the end of the story. This tension is translated across to the young Alma sections through the foreshadowing of the early 1900s narrative line. This mystery kept me hooked the entire time and when it finally unfolded broke me into little pieces. At times this book was hard and almost confronting. There was no hiding from the pain and horror people can and will inflict on each other.

This world is totally engrossing. The clothes, actions and dialogue of the character feel as though they’ve been lifted from the history books. Skenandore has the way of adding in smell and textures that help to bring the late 1800s, early 1900s alive. I especially adored how she added in words and phrases from the Anishinaabemowin tribe. It added an extra depth to the characters and also gave me an insight into the Native American culture I’ve never had before. I also adore how Alma took the time to learn about her friends’ culture and was one of the few white characters that understood the slight differences in the tribes.

I cannot get enough of this world and these characters. Skenandore doesn’t hold back showing the ignorance of the 1800s White America and their frankly pigheaded belief that they were ‘saving’ the Native Americans by showing them a self declared ‘civilised’ life. This is an important story. We shouldn’t forget about the tragic and more horrible aspects of our history. Skenandore handled the topic beautifully and Alma was, for me, the perfect guide to being a white person I can never fully understand exactly what these tribes went through. I really adored this book and cannot recommend it highly enough. If you like this sounds interesting please grab a copy. More people need to read Between Earth and Sky and discover this gem!
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Amanda Skenandore approaches a sad and tragic American truth with raw emotion and humanity in this powerful story. Through the eyes of complex characters--both white and Native American--we see the lies that destroyed Native American lives and heritage and have effects even today. Skendandore's prose is poetic and engaging, guiding the reader through two time periods and the protagonist's realization of both society's and her own wrongs. Recommended for historical fiction readers and book clubs.
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This was an interesting book a little outside of my "typical" reading material.  I enjoyed the dual time periods in this book when I usually don't - but in this case, it added to the story and both time periods were interesting,  It was certainly a different view of Native Americans than usual. with wonderfully written relationships.  There wasn't a ton of "action" which means it was a slower pace in some spots, but it was always interesting,  Overall, very good read.
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Between Earth and Sky is a powerful and poignant exploration of the residential school system in the US during the late 19th century. It was nice to read about this significant part of history because it continues to have an impact even today. Although the story is based on American residential schools, the story is also relevant to Canadian history. 

The story starts in 1906 with Alma Michell reading a newspaper article about an old friend from her days living at her father's residential school. Harry Muskrat is being tried for the murder of a government official.. Alma can't fathom Harry being the culprit who committed this crime and enlists her husband, an attorney, to help prove his innocence. As Alma digs deeper into the situation, old memories come flooding back and Alma is left wondering if her childhood perspective is really as accurate as she once believed.

This story provides the reader with a snapshot of life for the Native American children in the residential school system. The plot contains really only a taste of the abuse that was suffered by these children. In reality, the abuse was much more significant than what is portrayed. However, with that acknowledged, this fictional account did provide an interesting perspective of the sincere efforts of school personnel at Stover residential school to assimilate the Native American students they deemed as "savages" from a patriarchal and racist lens commonly adopted in that era. The story is told through the eyes of Alma both as a child and adult with alternating timelines.

Excellent writing and character development brings the reader into the folds of this story. We form strong attachments to the whole cast be it love, hate, hope, anger, concern, disappointment, sadness, etc. The story is multidimensional in that we can see the characters' covert decisions but also appreciate the layers beneath. In other words, people can be both good and bad. They can make flawed decisions with the best intentions. This is a book that will make you think and feel. At the heart of its message is the suggestion that assimilation created more problems than it solved, leaving a generation of people who were left without any meaningful identity. Truly a captivating read that leaves a lingering impact on the reader.

A gracious thank you to Kensington Books and Amanda Skenandore for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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