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All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky

All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky

4.5 4
by Joe R. Lansdale

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Jack Catcher's parents are dead—his mom died of a sickness and his dad of a broken heart—and he wants to get out of Oklahoma, where dust storms have killed everything green and hopeful. So when former classmate Jane Lewis and her little brother, Tony, show up in his yard with plans to steal a dead neighbor's car and make a break for Texas, Jack doesn't


Jack Catcher's parents are dead—his mom died of a sickness and his dad of a broken heart—and he wants to get out of Oklahoma, where dust storms have killed everything green and hopeful. So when former classmate Jane Lewis and her little brother, Tony, show up in his yard with plans to steal a dead neighbor's car and make a break for Texas, Jack doesn't need much convincing to go with them. But a run-in with one of the era's most notorious gangsters puts a crimp in Jane's plan, and soon the three kids are riding the rails among hoboes, gangsters, and con men, racing to warn a carnival-wrestler-turned-bank-robber of the danger headed toward him faster than a black blizzard on the prairie horizon. This road trip adventure is a colorful ride through Depression-era America.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Ellen Frank
Jack Catcher's life takes a 360-degree turn when his mother dies after a long illness, his father commits suicide, and a dust storm rolls into Oklahoma destroying everything that is left. He wants to be like the "heroes in books he read about, who could stand up against anything and keep on coming." With everlasting optimism, Jack decides his life can only get better. He is joined by two old acquaintances, Jane Lewis and her little brother, Tony. The three decide to steal a dead neighbor's car and take off across the state. Together, the three meet some high-profile criminals, get involved in some very risky adventures, and discover both the inhumane and the humane side of life. Each predicament leaves the reader in amazement at how the human spirit of survival shines through. Joe Lansdale has captured the spirit and fortitude of the young orphans who survived the great Depression without a strong support system. Readers will identify with the issues the protagonists face, including kidnapping, train hopping, romance, and poverty. This book is reminiscentof Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust (Scholastic, 2007/VOYA April 1998). The male protagonist, Jack, is like a male version of Billie Joe. When things cannot get any worse, they do. Readers will find the exploits of Jack, Jane, and Tony entertaining and informative. The book would be a great tie-in to a study on the Great Depression. Reviewer: Ellen Frank
Children's Literature - Annie Laura Smith
This 1930s depression era story set in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma and East Texas finds three orphans on a road trip adventure searching for a place to call home. The title itself expresses climatic conditions known historically as the Dust Bowl. Severe dust storms blew across the southern plains of the United States for eight years. The first person point of view gives a sense of immediacy to the story, and the reader will feel as if they are there with Jack Catcher, Jane Lewis, and her little brother Tony as they go on their odyssey. Lansdale's interviews with people, who lived through this era, provide realistic images of the struggles experienced by those who lived through it. The kids' encounter with gangsters, including Pretty Boy Floyd, brings even more danger to their journey. Yet another storm, an engulfing cloud of grasshoppers, allows them to escape captivity by the gangsters, but thrust them into other difficult circumstances with a no-good sheriff. Their last encounter ends in a showdown at a carnival. This well-crafted tale based on some 1930s history will engage young readers. They will be captivated by the endurance and resiliency of these young orphans. Reviewer: Annie Laura Smith
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Jack buries his parents in the barn during a Depression-era Oklahoma dust storm. Mama succumbed to dirty pneumonia and his father, overcome by grief, has hung himself. Jack's spunky neighbor Jane and her younger brother, Tony, also recently orphaned, stumble in from a dust storm that buried their father. The three steal a Ford and set out to seek the siblings' aunt and uncle in East Texas. The body count rises as they encounter gangsters, railyard bulls, and a crooked sheriff on one hand and kindly folks such as Pretty Boy Floyd, Mrs. Carson, Junior, and carnival performers on the other. A plague of grasshoppers, an alligator, and even the local police (conveniently) play their parts in this tale that balances the bleak bits with Jane's smart banter, a warm first (and second and third) kiss, and an ending that leaves Jack hopeful for a brighter tomorrow. Despite the convenient plot devices, this is a fast-paced, exciting story in which historical details are smoothly incorporated, characters are quickly but effectively sketched, and the author's Twain-like twang delivers both ironic and situational humor that will leave readers chuckling.—Joel Shoemaker, formerly at South East Junior High School, Iowa City, IA
Kirkus Reviews

Three orphans with nothing to lose embark on a road trip that reaches epic proportions.

Initially, readers find Jack grappling with the loss of his parents, who have succumbed to the ravages of the Dust Bowl. Lansdale quickly shifts to a light, folksy tone as Jack meets up with Jane and her younger brother, Tony. Jane wants to "look around first, learn a little about life" before becoming a journalist. So why not set out on a real quest? Together they steal a car from a dead man but are soon kidnapped by bank-robbing gangsters. After overhearing the men's intention to kill an accomplice named Strangler, Jane convinces the boys that warning him would be the noble thing to do. Jack and Tony go along on the strength of Jane's prowess as a storyteller—or liar, as some would have it. This "Jack tale" is really Jane's story; Jack is little more than the chronicler of an episodic adventure that stretches credulity as the trio heads across East Texas. Jane's stories get them in and out of jams as they ride the rails with hoboes, are befriended by the likes of Pretty Boy Floyd and are hoodwinked into forced labor by a corrupt sheriff, before reaching acarnival, where the action culminates in a scene of comic violence.

A solid yarn with just a hint of romance. (Fiction. 11-14)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)
760L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

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.

Meet the Author

JOE R. LANSDALE is the author of more than a dozen novels for adults, including eight Hap and Leonard novels, as well as Sunset and Sawdust and Lost Echoes. He has received a British Fantasy Award, an American Mystery Award, an Edgar Award, a Grinzane Cavour Prize, and seven Bram Stoker Awards. All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky is his first novel for young adults.

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All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
FeatheredQuillBookReviews More than 1 year ago
Mom stopped breathing.Dad hung himself from a broken heart.and Jack Catcher is a young man left alone, living during the Depression in a small hovel in Okalahoma. Not only do readers meet Jack during one of the most awful times in his young life, but they also sit with him as the huge sandstorm blows outside, covering everything in a hideous layer of dirt, dust, and debris. Jack Catcher is on his own now and has literally no idea what to do. Fate offers a helping hand as one day, he looks through that wall of sand, to see two young children walking towards him. Tony and Jane Lewis come from a home a few miles away and have been walking through the hideous storm since the wind knocked over their house and left them as victims in the wind. At one time, not so long ago, the future seemed like it was bright for these kids, but when the Depression hit, the weather turned hideous, and the crops dried up - 'bright' quickly turned into a nightmare. These three teens find a way to double back to the home of a man who is now dead in his chair under a pile of sand, where taking the keys to a dead man's truck doesn't seem like such a bad thing. After all, he's not going to be using it. Together, this trio make their way to Texas, where a relative might still be living that can be of some help. Without much money in their pockets, and the truck getting a flat tire, the journey is not exactly going to be an easy one. And.it gets worse. Standing by the side of the road with a flat tire, Jack, Tony and Jane meet up with some back robbers who want their truck - and them - in order to evade police and try to get to their 'partner' who stole their money and left them to rot. Jane, the girl who is all mouth, is looking forward to being a journalist one day, and is the best partner Jack Catcher could have. Because soon, they escape from the bad guys and find a way to travel to Texas, trying their best to stay free AND warn the other bank robber that his friends are coming after him. This story is truly interesting. It is unable to be said that the plot was fascinating or mind-boggling; in fact, the characters are quite hard to like as the story unfolds. But the author certainly has a creative eye when it comes to making readers feel the absolute fear and desolation when the mighty hand of fate and the power of nature come together to change a person's path through life. Quill Says: A unique tale that is certainly "out of the box" when it comes to Young Adult fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read Lansdale every chance I get. He's that good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago