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Between Two Skies by Joanne O'Sullivan
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Between Two Skies

by Joanne O'Sullivan

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Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in southeast Louisiana on August 29, 2005 was one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States.

Overall, at least 1,245 people died in the hurricane and subsequent floods, and total property damage was estimated at $108 billion in 2005 U.S. dollars. The most severe damage occurred in the coastal areas, with ground zero at the low-lying area of Plaquemines Parish. As CBS News reported:

“[The storm left] the landscape dotted with smashed, grounded boats, homes torn apart and flooded. Fishing, shrimping and oyster fleets were destroyed. Around 990,000 gallons of oil were released and towns were flooded with contaminated water.”

Some homes were under 26 feet of water, and even ten years later, those communities were still picking up the pieces.

This young adult novel is set in fictional Bayou Perdu, one of the small communities destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Plaquemines Parish - “the place where Louisiana takes its last breath before plunging into the Gulf of Mexico.”

In August of 2005, the heroine of the story, Evangeline Riley, was just turning 16. Evangeline had won the under-sixteen fishing rodeo; like her dad who was a shrimp fisherman, she loved being out on the water. She felt like if she didn’t spend time on the water, she would shrivel up: “Thoughts come to me when I’m on the water. It’s clear who I am out here. Not who I am compared to anyone else. ” She also loved the ecosystem of the bayou:

“The most beautiful birds you’ve ever seen - roseate spoonbills, blue herons, and snowy egrets - build their nests in our marshes in the winter and teach their babies to fly here.”

Just as much as she appreciated the biota, she relished the human ecosystem of Coastal Louisiana, with its mix of French, Italian, Irish, Croatian, Spanish, Vietnamese: “America may be a melting pot, but Louisiana is a gumbo pot.” She cherished its unique mix of languages, cultures, music, food, and even looks.

But none of that mattered with the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. It was the day of Evangeline's 16th birthday when her family got word that the huge hurricane was on the way, and that they must evacuate. They headed to the home of a relative in Atlanta, Georgia, and were heartbroken upon hearing about the destruction that came to the Gulf Coast. It was a long time before they were assigned a trailer home back in the area so they could return.

In the meanwhile, Evangeline and her sister Mandy enrolled in school in Atlanta, where each of them had different adjustment problems. Mandy was no longer the popular, sought-after girl she was back in Bayou Perdu, and Evangeline felt lost without the bayou itself:

“I miss the water, the birds, the wind through the marsh grass. I miss the sunset and the sound of that hard, hard rain falling on the roof. I miss the smell of salt in the air, that awful heat rising up from the docks. I feel sore all the time from all the missing. Bruises just beneath the surface. Invisible.”

But then she ran into another evacuee at her school she had met back home, and had briefly crushed on: Tru Nguyen. She felt happiness again for the first time: “I am bursting. All those SAT words that mean ecstatic. Ebullient. Elated.”

Tru was attracted to her as well and they tentatively began a relationship. Although the dark clouds of her life now were “edged by silver,” she couldn't help feeling like her namesake, Evangeline, the heroine of the poem by Longfellow about the Acadians who fled Canada and ended up in Louisiana, becoming known as Cajuns. The poetic Evangeline is separated from her love and her home, but she can’t deny the “inexpressible sweetness” of Louisiana. As Evangeline recounted, “Above her is the Louisiana sky. Below is its reflection in the water. She is there in her boat, suspended in the middle, ‘hanging between two skies.’” This Evangeline felt that way too.

Evangeline and Tru hardly began acknowledging their feelings for one another, however, before their parents inadvertently intervened. Tru was taken back to the coast to work on his father’s fishing boat, and Evangeline accompanied her own father to their assigned trailer near their old home. Before she left though, her school counselor gave her a blank journal with a quote written on the inside cover by Camus she said reminded her of Evangeline: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

At this point though, almost everyone had been separated; not only Evangeline and Tru, but Evangeline and her friends from before the storm, and Evangeline’s family, now divided into two parts.

Where would fate lead them all? As Tru once said to Evangeline, “I think the things we love are what lead us to our fate, you know? Maybe that’s what fate is. When you catch up to the things you love.” The Epilogue two years after the storm lets us know how it worked out.

Evaluation: This is a gem of a book. It is not only a lovely story about coming-of-age and young love, but about the varied response to a calamitous disaster by both the government and the people in the country who responded in different ways to it. It is also a stirring tribute to Louisiana. ( )
  nbmars | Jun 9, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Setting so real, you can see, hear, and taste it. Beautiful language abounds. Interesting , strong, and likable protagonist. ( )
  kimpiddington | May 14, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Yes, undoubtedly Hurricane Katrina was one of the most devastating natural disasters to hit our country...and the stories set amidst its horror are numerous, but this one, Between Two Skies has something quite different about it. We feel what is is to have lost our place, our home, and to know what it feels like to have the need to get back to it.

Evangeline, just 16, loves the water and its peacefulness, especially when she is out shrimping with her father. It is where she belongs. Yet, when Katrina forces everyone to leave, her family ends up in Atlanta, a big city, with none of the charm that Bayou Perdu had. Here, she is a refugee. But, while there, she reconnects with another 'refugee', Tru, who captures her heart and who also carries his home in his heart. When he suddenly disappears, she knows that they must find a way back to each other. She sees her family trying desperately trying to make an adjustment to this temporary world with varied degrees of success...yet, Evangeline knows in her heart that Louisiana and the waters will always be her home and she will return.

When the chance to return comes, there is resistance amongst her family, but she knows she must go back because she needs to find her sense of belonging, her home, and her one love, Tru. Between Two Skies has a lyrical voice, with a assuredness and confidence in the fate that has been chosen for us. Stumbling blocks may come, but when your sense of home is as strong as Evangeline's, all things will right themselves eventually...even if they are not the way you would have expected them to. A compelling novel told with a confident voice which captures the true essence of a survivor.

Thank you to LibraryThing Early Reviewers, Candlewick Press, and Joanne O'Sullivan for this ARC. ( )
  jackiewark | May 8, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0763690341, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 19 Jan 2017 08:28:57 -0500)

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