The Sky Between You And Me




The Sky Between You And Me is a story about a horse-loving girl who develops an eating disorder in order to become a better athlete.  Unfortunately, this novel in verse focuses very little on the sport and throws all of its energy at repetitive phrasing and one-dimensional characters.

Look
If you are writing a novel
in verse then
don't
rely on line
breaks
to make your novel
S
H
I
N
E

Gag me.  I know I'm showing my 90s roots here, but gag me with a spoon.  When poetry is used to enhance a story, it completely works (see: anything by Christine Hepperman!).  When a story is lacking and an author decides to *jazz hands* it up with some versification, well then, Houston, we have a problem.  You cannot fix a weak story or flat characters with formatting.  If anything, this draws attention to issues with vocabulary and metaphor and so on.

The idea behind The Sky between You and Me is certainly not a bad one; although cowboys and cowgirls are popular in mysteries and romances, they don't show up very often in YA.  Especially not contemporary YA!  So I was really excited to see the point of view of someone whose life is totally different from that of the teens in my suburban city.  Here are some things that our character does that I have never done:

Kiss a guy while they were both riding different horses
Race around barrels
Contemplate running for Court--Rodeo Court, that is
See her dog get kicked by a horse
Pull a calf out of its mother using a pickup truck (I swear to Cthulhu I am not making this up)

I don't doubt that these things are pretty par for the course for kids who live on farms and ranches; however, the story waffles between making Rae's life as a ranch girl the priority and focusing on her eating disorder.  Random events are pulled from Rae's life and built up to in such a way that the reader may think that it is a pivotal moment--for example, when Rae's mother's horse becomes ill.  But then in the next chapter the slate is wiped clean and the event is never referred to again.

Reading The Sky Between You and Me was a bit like riding in the car with someone learning to drive a manual transmission (apologies to my mother and father for probably giving them whiplash).  The author would introduce an interesting plot point, but instead of running with it, she popped the clutch, stalled the plot, and then jumped over to a totally different plot point.

I'm not sure if you can be an awesome cowgirl, as opposed to a mediocre one, but in any case, Raesha is a great rider and a help to her single father on their ranch.  Her life revolves around animals, especially competing in rodeos with her horse.

Except not really!  Very little of the story actually describes Rae's passion.  We are instead told that she dreams of being a rodeo champion like her mother.  We are told that she loves horses.  I guess she is fast at barrels.  There is a long interlude about these old nanny goats that no one wanted but Rae's daddy bought anyway.  I love goats as much as the next girl (probably more, actually), but why are we waxing poetic about old goats?  Rae talks a lot more about her dog Blue than she does her horse Fancy, which seems a bit off to me.

Anyway, while analyzing her times in barrel racing, Rae figures that if she could just be her mom's size, she could shave seconds off of her time.  She could sit better in the saddle if she were just her weight Minus Five.

Rae learns the calorie counts of everything and begins avoiding social situations like going out for ice cream because of the mental distress it causes.  Her best friend Asia notices that Rae has stopped eating, but instead of talking to her about it, she just gets mad and sassy.  The kicker is that a hot new girl named Kierra rides into town, accidentally almost kills Blue, and then sets her sights on Rae's boyfriend, the ultra-hot Cody.

As her disease progresses, Rae withdraws further and further from her friends and her life at the rodeo.  Honestly, she could do without her so-called friends, especially that turd she calls a boyfriend.  Since the story is written from Rae's point of view, it's obviously skewed toward her unhealthy way of thinking, but Mr. Perfect Boyfriend  cody runs around acting like a complete idiot.  He wonders why Rae is upset that he gives Kierra rides in his truck and partners with her for roping and never acknowledges that this behavior hurts his girlfriend.   He is a cowboy playa who doesn't even notice that his girlfriend is starving herself.  But when he does, we get this gem of a comment: "Getting so thin isn't attractive.  Nobody likes to hug a skeleton."  Are.  You.  Kidding.  Me?  Rae doesn't even dump his sorry keister after that, either.  Gee, what a catch.

The progression of Rae's anorexia is very believable.  She doesn't see anything wrong with being Minus Five her current weight all the time, even when her weight is still dropping.  She doesn't see that she's hurting herself--she's chasing an uncatchable ideal.

If the story had focused on Rae's disease and maybe one other plot point--like the regional rodeo competition and training for it--then I would have enjoyed it much more.  Instead, it incorporates the disparate incidents I mentioned earlier and tries to mash them all together into a cohesive plot.  The book ends up looking like headcheese, with hunks of this and chunks of that all held together tenuously by gelatinous goo.

Certainly, I am no expert in farm or country-type things.  I grew up in a suburb and have lived in big cities.  Pollution is actually helpful to my messed-up immune system because it muscles out all of the pollen that makes me so sick.  I am the kind of person that the Good Old Boy Farmer in those Farmers Only commercials makes fun of.  It was interesting to learn about a life so different from my own, but I also felt totally inferior to these people because I have no useful life skills.  Like pulling a breech calf out of its mama with a truck.  I feel a bit noodly just thinking about it.

Quick question regarding names: Cody seems like typical farm guy name, but Raesha, Kierra, and Asia?  I have a hard time putting those names with pretty cowgirls.  Is it just me?

I wish all the best to the author in her recovery from anorexia.  Her experience lends so much verisimilitude to Rae's illness, and I applaud that.  But the stylistic choice of a novel in verse and a scattershot plot distract from the powerful simplicity of Rae and her Minus Five.

And that Cody loser can go walk in front of an angry bull for all I care.  I'm still seething.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.
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Comments

  1. Good point about the names. I have read a lot of YA novels in which none of the girls has a recognisable name. I work in a school and any exotic-sounding names are because the student comes from another country. In my small English class I have a Molly, a Monique and an Angela. And the Asian kids quite often give themselves Anglo names, such as Kevin and Jenny and Simon.

    Pity that a novel which could have been good clearly needs a lot of editing. Verse novels can be great. We have a writer here, Steven Herrick, who specialises in them. His prose novels just don't work as well.

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    1. Farmland is generally quite politically conservative, which usually means conservative Christian, which usually means "wholesome" names like Katie or Christine or Josh. Raesha was such an odd choice. If her name were just Rae OR Rae-short-for-Rachel, then yes.

      I've noticed that a lot of recent novels about eating disorders have been in verse ... but it didn't benefit the book in any way. I think it's trying to ride on the coattails of Ellen Hopkins, whose problem-verse novels are routinely stolen from public libraries all over.

      Herrick sounds familiar ... hmm.

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