Hurricane Katrina sets a teenage girl adrift. But a new life and the promise of love emerges in this rich, highly readable debut.
Bayou Perdu, a tiny fishing town way, way down in Louisiana, is home to sixteen-year-old Evangeline Riley. She has her best friends, Kendra and Danielle; her wise, beloved Mamere; and back-to-back titles in the under-sixteen fishing rodeo. But, dearest to her heart, she has the peace that only comes when she takes her skiff out to where there is nothing but sky and air and water and wings. It's a small life, but it is Evangeline's.
And then the storm comes, and everything changes. Amid the chaos and pain and destruction comes Tru a fellow refugee, a budding bluesman, a balm for Evangeline s aching heart. Told in a strong, steady voice, with a keen sense of place and a vivid cast of characters, here is a novel that asks compelling questions about class and politics, exile and belonging, and the pain of being cast out of your home. But above all, this remarkable debut tells a gently woven love story, difficult to put down, impossible to forget.
♥ Quick Thoughts and Rating: 3 stars, could possibly be bumped up to 3.5 stars later upon further reflection. Ms. O’Sullivan did a lot of things right in this book, like capturing the Louisiana setting and the voice of teen girl caught in the devastating aftermath of one of the most significant natural disasters on record, but my inability to be emotionally present for the moment proved to be my biggest hurdle with this book. Ultimately, that struggle is what caused my rating to drop as well.
♥ Review: Before I dive into this review, let’s do a little backstory, shall we? In August of 2005, during the days of Katrina’s brewing and what came after, I was 19 and starting my sophomore year at a junior college in north Mississippi. I remember being glued to the television screen during and after the storm. I remember my town and surrounding areas receiving some refugees from all along the coast. I remember seeing the complete devastation on their faces and hearing their stories, listening as they recounted the hours of traffic and fear for their homes, their families and friends that they hadn’t heard from and couldn’t locate. I will never ever forget any of it for as long as I live, I don’t think.
So, after reading the synopsis for this book, I think I went in to it with certain expectations. For the most part, I think the author did an amazing job of introducing the characters and Bayou Perdu, a tiny fishing town just outside of New Orleans, to the readers and letting us glimpse what their day-to-day life was like before the storm so that we might understand and get a real feel for the loss that came after. In viewing those days leading up to it, we realize how it was supposed to be “just another hurricane,” one like they’d prepared for countless times before but usually only as a safety precaution and not something that would inevitably completely uproot life as they knew it. And then Katrina hit and brought with her all the death and destruction that most of us now know came with her. O’Sullivan explored the aftermath of that storm and how it affected each individual and family so differently and yet wholly the same in other regards–displacing some momentarily, others long term, bridging certain communities and tearing others apart. Not only was the landscape changed forever, but the people who had survived the storms by any means necessary would never be the same either. I believe she really honed in on all of that exceptionally well with a thoughtful prose, and I appreciated experiencing the journey alongside the characters as they found ways to fit into their new normal.
So, what went wrong for me? To be completely honest, I’m not absolutely certain that I can pinpoint one singular thing. I think since I had a somewhat tangible experience to Katrina (though it was nowhere near as tangible as those truly and directly impacted by it), I expected to connect to the story and the characters more than I actually did. If I were to say where things went a little awry, in my opinion, it was with the introduction of the romance. While the love interest was definitely adorable and they had met previous to the storm’s approach, I feel like in ways it took away from the bigger story which was the heroine and her family’s struggle with being relocated and all the pitfalls that came with it. Furthermore, I was never one-hundred-percent sold on the ups and downs of that relationship. The outside drama of meeting, leaving Louisiana, finding each other again, and then him suddenly leaving without getting to say goodbye and a whole mess of “him getting back with another girl once he got home” just muddled the storyline for me. I don’t know, I guess I just expected something different from what I got, which is really more my fault than any of the author’s doing.
With that being said, I mostly liked how the novel was concluded and definitely appreciated that we got to see where everyone was two years later, thriving and rebuilding. It certainly had a hopeful ending and I’m all for that.
♥ Teaser Quote:
America may be a melting pot, but Louisiana is a gumbo pot. The French came here for the sugar and the rice plantations, and the enslaved Haitians and Africans were brought to do their labor. The Italians came to fish, and the Irish came to dig channels. The Croatians, like Daddy’s mother, came to oyster back in the 1920s. The Vietnamese came here in the ’70s to escape the war and work as shrimpers. Daddy says we’re all mutts down here, a little of this and that race and culture all mixed together. You can have half a dozen shades of skin and textures of hair all in the same family, like we do. And each culture brought their own flavors with them and poured them into the mix.
–quote taken from the eARC of Between Two Skies at 4%
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♥ Rec It? Probably. As proven evident by the higher ratings on Goodreads, a good deal of readers connected to this book a lot more than I was able to, and perhaps this just wasn’t my full cup of tea. I did enjoy it; I just didn’t fall in love with it like I thought I would.
♥ A very special thanks to Candlewick Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this title.
*Disclaimer: An e-copy of this title was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. However, that did not influence this review in any way. All thoughts, quotes, and opinions will be of this version and not of the published edition.
Full of giggles, flails, snark and Southern endearments. Avid Reader. Lover of swoony boys, kickass heroines, yummy kissing scenes, and pretty prose.
I like to draw hearts in the sky (eternal optimist) and wish on stars (forever dreamer). Documentaries, sweet tea, sleep, and brightly colored knee-socks are a few of my favorite things. ♥
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