- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (September 13, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385739311
- ISBN-13: 978-0385739313
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 33 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,656,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky Hardcover – September 13, 2011
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About the Author
Joe R. Lansdale is the author of more than a dozen novels for adults, including five Hap and Leonard novels, as well as Sunset and Sawdust and Lost Echoes. He has received the British Fantasy Award, the American Mystery Award, the Edgar Award, the Grinzane Cavour Prize, and seven Bram Stoker Awards. He lives with his family in Nacogdoches, Texas. All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky is his first novel for young adults.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The wind could blow down a full-grown man, but it was the dust that was the worst. If the dust was red, I could figure it was out of Oklahoma, where we were. But if it was white, it was part of Texas come to fall on us, and if it was darker, it was probably peppering down from Kansas or Nebraska.
Mama always claimed you could see the face of the devil in them sandstorms, you looked hard enough. I don't know about that, it being the devil and all. But I can tell you for sure there were times when the sand seemed to have shape, and I thought maybe I could see a face in it, and it was a mean face, and it was a face that had come to puff up and blow us away.
It might as well have been the devil, though. In a way, it had blowed Mama and Daddy away, 'cause one night, all the dust in her lungs--the dirty pneumonia, the doctor had called it--finally clogged up good and she couldn't breathe and there wasn't a thing we could do about it. Before morning she was dead. I finally fell asleep in a chair by her bed holding her cold hand, listening to the wind outside.
When I went to look for Daddy, I found him out in the barn. He'd hung himself from a rafter with a plowline from the old mule harness. He had a note pinned to his shirt that said: I CAN NOT TAKE IT WITH YOUR MAMA DEAD I LOVE YOU AND I AM SORRY. It was not a long note, but it was clear, and even without the note, I'd have got the message.
It hadn't been long since he done it, because there was still a slight swing to his body and his shadow waved back and forth across the floor and his body was still warm.
I got up on the old milking stool and cut him down with my pocketknife, my hand trembling all the while I done it. I went inside and got Mama, managed to carry her down the porch and lay her on an old tarp and tug her out to the barn. Then the sandstorm came again, like it was just waiting on me to get inside. It was slamming the boards on the outside of the barn all the time I dug. The sky turned dark as the inside of a cow even though it was midday. I lit a lantern and dug by that light. The floor of the barn was dirt and it was packed down hard and tight from when we still had animals walking around on it.
I had to work pretty hard at digging until the ground got cracked and I was down a few inches. Then it was soft earth, and I was able to dig quicker. Digging was all I let myself think about, because if I stopped to think about how the only family I had was going down into a hole, I don't know I could have done it.
I wrapped Mama and Daddy in the tarp and dragged them into the hole, side by side, gentle as I could. I started covering them up, but all of a sudden, I was as weak as a newborn kitten. I sat down on the side of the grave and looked at their shapes under the tarp. I can't tell you how empty I felt. I even thought about taking that plowline and doing to myself what Daddy had done.
But I didn't want to be like that. I wanted to be like the heroes in books I had read about, who could stand up against anything and keep on coming. I hated to say it about my Daddy, but he had taken the coward's way out, and I hadn't never been no coward and wasn't about to start. Still, I broke down and started crying, and I couldn't stop, though there didn't seem to be much wet in me. The world was dry, and so was I, and all the time I cried I heaved, like someone sick with nothing left inside to throw up.
The storm howled and rattled the boards in the barn. The sand drifted through the cracks and filled the air like a fine powder and the powder was the color of blood. It was Oklahoma soil that was killing us that day, and not no other. In an odd way I found that worse. It seemed more personal than dirt from Texas, Kansas, or the wilds of Nebraska.
The lantern light made the powder gleam. I sat there and stared at the blood-colored mist and finally got up the strength to stand and finish covering Mama and Daddy, mashing the dirt down tight and flat with the back of the shovel when I was done.
I started to say some words over them, but the truth was I wasn't feeling all that religious right then, so I didn't say nothing but "I love you two. But you shouldn't have gone and killed yourself, Daddy. That wasn't any kind of way to do."
I got the lantern and set it by the door, pulled some goggles off a nail and slipped them on. They had belonged to my granddaddy, who had been an aviator in World War I, and though I hadn't knowed him very well before he died, he had left them to me, and it was a good thing, 'cause I knowed a couple fellas that got their eyes scraped off by blowing sand and gone plumb blind.
I put the goggles on, blew out the lantern. Wasn't no use trying to carry it out there in the dark, 'cause the wind would blow it out. I set it down on the floor again, opened up the barn door, got hold of the rope Daddy had tied to a nail outside, and followed it through the dark with the wind blowing that sand and it scraping me like the dry tongue of a cat. I followed it over to where it was tied to the porch of the house, and then when I let go of it, I had to feel my way around until I got hold of the doorknob and pushed myself inside.
I remember thinking right then that things couldn't get no worse.
But I was wrong.
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Three young people, Jack Catcher, Jane Lewis and her little brother, Tony, begin their travels in a car not quite stolen, along a road to a destination not quite real. Along the way they meet up with killers, thieves, kindness, and love and hate. The dust bowl has killed nearly everything they've known and loved, and left them orphans. Yet, they aren't ready to lie down and let circumstances control their destinies. Going from Oklahoma to Texas, they find their places in the world with their spirits intact.
A good young adult novel, this doesn't pander to anyone. Gritty and sometimes lyrical, it's a good read for YAs and adults alike.
"all the earth, thrown to the sky" is another fine Lansdale offering. He does especially well on coming-of-age stories and this one is a humdinger. It has been advertised as Lansdale's first Young Adult offering and teens on up will enjoy it but I don't know what differentiates it from other books he has written, especially the two I noted above. Maybe a little less harsh language but Lansdale puts people, even kids, into brutal situations, in all his books/stories and then writes them out of them.
Jack, Jane and Tony are parentless, stuck in some of the severest conditions, including sandstorms and grasshopper plagues, and they are unlucky enough to run across some real hard characters. But they also have each other and they find some people that are willing to help and Lansdale tells us their story.
I wish the book would have been longer but that is purely selfish. There is nothing left undone in "all the earth, thrown to the sky."
Stephen King you know.
Joe R. Lansdale, I hope you know. If you don't, shame on you because Joe wrote The Bottoms, which is probably the best novel I've ever read. It made me laugh, cry, shout out in righteous anger, and in certain scenes it scared the bejesus out of me. Joe also wrote A Fine Dark Line, Sunset and Sawdust, Dead in the West, Cold in July, Freezer Burn which is one of the most bizarre; yet, entertaining novels I've read in the last decade), Lost Echoes, the short novel, Bubba Ho-Tep, and probably my most favorite series of all, Hap and Leonard. I like Hap Collins and Leonard Pine so much that I sent their latest novel, Devil Red, to Bruce Willis' production company, hoping Bruce still has some good sense left in that bald noggin of his and will want to turn the book into a major motion picture with him and Samuel L. Jackson playing the lead roles. Only time will tell. Anyway, Joe also has a new stand-alone novel coming out in March of 2012, Under the Warrior Star. I've thoroughly enjoyed everything I've read by this author, including dozens of his short stories, many of which have been turned into TV episodes for Master of Horror and other programs.
Okay, what does all of this have to do with his newest book, All the Earth, Thrown To the Sky, which was written primarily for the Young Adult market? Well, Joe may have written this novel with teenagers in mind, but the book is such that adults will love it, too.
I know I did!
The story takes place during the Great Depression, beginning in Oklahoma and ending in East Texas. The dust storms have devastated most of the states in the central part of our country, leaving families with no way to support themselves, millions of people out of work, no crops and little food, scores of individuals committing suicide with no hope for the future, while others turn to crime, especially the robbing of banks.
Jack Catcher is a young boy, whose mom just died of pneumonia and his father hung himself in the barn from the grief of her death. Jack has no dreams for anything better, except maybe for the wild idea that California holds the possibility of a new beginning. That idea gets sidetracked when he spots two kids trying to make their way in a sand storm, running out of strength with no idea of where they're actually heading. Jack saves them. He also knows them from school--Jane and Tony Lewis. It seems that their mom ran off with a Bible salesman, and their dad was crushed underneath a fallen tractor.
After getting some rest and some food in their stomachs, all three decide to head out to parts unknown, using Old Man Turpin's car because Jack knows how to drive. Since Turpin is already dead, he won't miss the vehicle. The kids are hoping the car will get them far enough from the state of Oklahoma so they can finally breathe some fresh air again. Their journey, however, takes a turn for the worse when their stolen car blows a tire and a bunch of bank robbers come driving by, in need of a new car to help them avoid the law. The criminals, Bad Tiger Malone and two partners, crazy-ass Timmy and bullet-wounded Buddy, are the mean and deadly kind of people who'd rather shoot first and talk later. The two main robbers decide to leave poor Buddy behind with a bullet in his head, thus ending his misery. Bad Tiger also sees some good use for the kids. He can hold them as hostages should the law find them. During their life-experiencing ordeal, the three kids learn that Bad Tiger and Timmy are after another partner--Strangler Nugowski--who stole $50,000 from them to give his own child a much needed operation. The two criminals could care less about the sick kid, but they do care about the money and getting their revenge on the former carnival wrestler.
When the right moment finally comes along (a storm filled with millions of grasshoppers), Jack and Jane and Tony escape from the bad guys and continue on with their journey. The thing is that Jane now thinks the ex-bank robber should be warned about his no-good ex-friends and what they are planning to do. Jane is young, pretty, smart, and a real blabber mouth, not to mention an outright liar. She can talk up a storm, lie with the best of them, and get her brother and Jack to do just about anything she wants. Jack knows the dangers of continuing on into Texas, but it's what Jane wants. Truth be told, Jack is already in love with her and she knows it as only a woman (or young girl) can. Of course, in all fairness, Jane is free spirited and loves adventure, while Jack likes to play it safe.
With the journey into East Texas, the three kids get to meet Box Car Bertha and Pretty Boy Floyd, who makes a definite impression on Jane and causes Jack to feel a strong sense of jealousy for the first time in his life. That's the good stuff. After a chance encounter with a crooked sheriff and his pea farm, the kids get first-hand experience at what slavery is like. Of course, the real question is whether or not the kids will get to Strangler Nugowski before Bad Tiger and Timmy do. Is the Strangler still alive, or already dead? Even more important is what will become of Jack and Jane and little Tony?
You have to read the book to find out!
All the Earth, Thrown To the Sky is storytelling at its absolute best. Joe R. Lansdale has a distinctive style of writing that clearly resonates with his many fans. He has the ability to make you laugh with his stories, while keeping you glued to the seat in suspense and anticipation. Like Stephen King, Joe is able to get to the heart of his characters (whether children or adults) with a few choice words or sentences that bring them alive and enable his readers to see them as real-life people, though they're only fictional. He does this with Jack and Jane and little Tony, as well as the other characters in the novel. He touches upon the kid's innocence and lack of understanding about the real world. This is especially evident in the character of Jane, who lives in her own world of fairytales, fantasy, and adventure, believing that everything will turn out the way she expects. Jack, being more down-to-earth of the three, knows better. He sees each new experience as a possible threat to their lives, until proven otherwise. Little Tony, however, seems to go with the flow, trusting his sister to get them out of the tough spots that she usually gets them into.
I don't know much about The Great Depression and the dust bowls that destroyed most of Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Northern Texas. Joe seems to be full of history in his depiction of the era, and everything rings true to the ear as he describes the different kinds of dust storms that would swept down into each state with the storms sometimes being a mile high and hundreds of miles long. You couldn't see or even breathe inside of them, and there was dust everywhere imaginable. The criminals of the period bring a stark realism to the story with either their outward meanness or inner fairness with those around them. Bad Tiger Malone was definitely the opposite of Pretty Boy Floyd, who seemed to be a person who'd been caught up in circumstances beyond his control. Joe R. Lansdale certainly knows how to create conflict in the story with his dark, violent villains, and he does this superbly within this novel.
As a reader, I can honestly say that you know deep inside when a story has done its job by the way you feel at the end. All the Earth, Thrown To the Sky tugged strongly at my heart strings with the last few pages, creating a sense of emptiness and profound loss and missed opportunity that the lead character passed on to me. I could identify with the kids in the story and understand where each of them was coming from. Though I admired Jane's strength, perseverance, and willingness to charge ahead, I still felt sadden by Jack's loss. Not many books hit me this hard at the end.
Needless to say, All the Earth, Thrown To the Sky is a winner in my opinion, cementing Joe R. Lansdale's status as one of the best storytellers of our time.
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