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Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com. Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.
AMANDA EYRE WARD The Same Sky
FICTION Ballantine, Hardcover, January 20, 2015, 978-0-553-39050-6, 288 pp., $25.00 (also available in e-book and audiobook versions)
reviewed 2.15.2015 by Michelle Newby, Contributing Editor
Y’all remember Lite Guv Dan Patrick’s faceless, nameless invading alien hordes? Well, her name is Carla. I was immediately charmed by this matter-of-fact girl with a child’s lack of euphemism. All she knows of El Norte is from the movies she’s seen through the windows of a PriceSmart electronics store. When her grandmother dies she is left to mother her younger brother. She lives in a shack with no running water and no bathroom. She must quit school to join others just like her scavenging in the dump for items to sell because they are hungry. She is just twelve years old when she embarks on a harrowing, dangerous journey from the shantytowns surrounding Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to join her mother in Austin, Texas.
Alice has a loving husband, a thriving business, friends, and a charming home in funky, gentrifying east Austin. The only piece of the dream that’s missing is a child. Alice and her husband, Jake, have tried for many years to have a baby. Casting about for purpose, Alice needs to take care of someone or something—which leads to humorous episodes with a puppy and risky episodes with a troubled teenager.
In The Same Sky, Amanda Eyre Ward tells the stories of Alice and Carla, each striving for their personal version of the much-vaunted American dream. The author deftly conveys the unique voices of these two very different characters, moving smoothly back and forth between the privileged forty-one-year-old Alice and the desperately poor twelve-year-old Carla. Ward spent a year researching and visiting children in immigration centers in California and Texas, listening to their stories. As a result, the juxtaposition of Alice’s and Carla’s worlds is frequently jarring, as Ward transitions from the dirt floor of Carla’s shack to Alice standing dazed in a Whole Foods store thinking, “It was sickening. It was glorious. A place where every desire could be sated.”
There are no flights of epic language here, but the simple, quiet details effectively deliver a punch. When Carla sees a picture of her mother in America she describes her with teeth “as white as American sugar” in a “lop-sided smile, without fear.” She describes her frail grandmother’s hand as a “bouquet of bones” and on her trip north she “felt like a dying animal being watched by patient vultures.” Alice, eloquent of longing as she remembers her brief time with a baby they wanted to adopt, says, “The moon outside his window was full. I was full.” As you can imagine, there’s very little humor here but there is a recurring bit involving “House Hunters International” and the spoiled, picky hunters turning up their noses in disdain at a lack of closet space—again, juxtapositions.
The plot moves swiftly, sweeping you along with Carla and Alice on their separate journeys. As their destinies bring them inexorably together—magnet to steel—you will be rooting for them.
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