Between Earth and Sky

Between Earth and Sky

by Amanda Skenandore


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496713667
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 04/24/2018
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 228,616
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Amanda Skenandore is a historical fiction writer and registered nurse. In writing Between Earth and Sky, she has drawn on the experiences of a close relative, a member of the Ojibwe Tribe, who survived an Indian mission school in the 1950s. Between Earth and Sky is Amanda’s first novel. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Readers can visit her website at

Read an Excerpt


Philadelphia, 1906

Her past arrived that morning on page ten, tucked between a crosshatched cartoon of striking trolley workers and an advertisement for derby hats.


Alma held the newsprint up to the light and read the article twice, three times, as if the words might change upon closer inspection.

That name. She knew it as well as her own. Her lips moved around the syllables — yet familiar after all these years. The accompanying sound died in her mouth.

His face coalesced in her mind: broad cheekbones, tall forehead, coppery skin. His clever eyes once again met her own. But he was just a boy then, a youth when they'd parted. What of the man he'd become?

She drew in an overdue breath and shook her head. No, she could not picture him a killer. The journalist must have gotten it wrong. That sort of thing happened all the time. Had the paper used his real name — his Indian name — the name she'd breathed a million times, then she would know for sure.

Surely the other dailies had run the story, too, and with more detail. A different name, a different man. And if not? If it was him, what would knowing bring save more heartache?

She pushed away the paper and groped for her teacup. It slipped from her fingers and shattered atop its saucer. Hot tea bled into the tablecloth.

"You all right, Mrs. Mitchell? Heard a noise clear from — Your tea!" The maid scurried in and threw a towel over the shattered porcelain.

The clock sounded in the foyer, each chime beating in Alma's ear. She had a ladies' auxiliary meeting to sit through at nine. Later the Civic Club and a few laughter-less games of euchre. Busyness, after all, was the best tonic for regret.

She stood, but her knees wavered. Her feet refused to move. More of that first day came back to her: wagon dust and smoke, cornbread and fire. The leather doll. She must know if it was him. "Edie, did we get the Record and the Inquirer this morning?"

"Your dress, ma'am. The tea's done spilt onto the lovely batiste. Best get it off before the stain sets."

She waved the maid off. "Never mind that. The papers?"

"I'll fetch 'em, ma'am. Along with some vinegar for that stain. But sit down, won't you? Your face has the air of the grave."


Wisconsin, 1881

For the sixteenth time that day — she knew, for she'd counted — Alma searched the horizon. She wobbled atop her toes and craned her neck that she might see beyond the bend where the road disappeared into the forest. Empty.

She rocked back onto her heels and squeezed her eyes shut, listening for the pounding of hooves or cry of wagon wheels. A bird cawed from above. Leaves chattered. Pans clanked from the kitchen at the back of the schoolhouse. But nothing of her father, the wagons, and the Indians he promised to bring.

After another searching glance, she spun around and skipped toward the schoolhouse to see how far the hands on the grandfather clock had moved since last she'd checked.


Not the sound she'd hoped to hear.

"Yes, Mama?"

"What did I tell you about running? Now you've gone and rumpled your dress."

Running and skipping were not the same thing, but the sharp look in her mother's eyes told her it was best to mind her tongue.

"Keep to your best behavior now," her mother said as she fussed over Alma's dress. "These children will look to you as an example."

"Yes, Mama."

"But don't be overly familiar either." She straightened the pearl brooch at Alma's collar. "They're Indians, after all."

Indians. Her mother spoke like it was a disease. Surely not. Her father wouldn't bring them here if that were so. Surely they could still be friends without Alma falling sick to whatever it was her mother feared.

Galloping horse hooves enlivened the quiet as a pair of wagons rounded the bend into view. Their iron-rimmed wheels ground over the gravel trail. Dust swirled amid the trees. She bounced on her heels and clapped her hands, willing the sweat-slickened horses to press their gait.

At last the wagons arrived, stopping in the boxy shadow of the great schoolhouse. Her father jumped down. Alma abandoned her mother and ran ... er ... skipped to his side. He picked her up and kissed her, his bushy mustache tickling her cheek. "Here they are, kitten, your new classmates."

Thirty-seven black-haired children huddled in the wagon beds. She counted each one twice, just to be sure. A smile readied on her face. She waited for her new friends to look her way, but they kept their heads down and gazes lowered, their knees drawn tight against their chests, as if the day were cold and cloudy, not sunny and fair.

Her father set her down and opened the back gates.

None of the Indians moved.

When he touched the shoulder of the nearest child, the boy shrank back as if stung.

"Come now, no one here will hurt you," her father said.

Why didn't they climb down? It couldn't be comfortable crowded in like that, nothing but scratchy hay to sit upon. Couldn't they smell the sweet cornbread Mrs. Simms had just finished baking? Alma looked beyond them at the schoolhouse. The freshly painted trim gleamed white and three stories' worth of windows sparkled with sunlight. Surely, they hadn't such grand buildings on their reservations.

Finally, a boy seated near the edge raised his head. Alma guessed him to be only a year or two older than she was. Loose strands of hair danced about his round face, catching the light with their glossy sheen. He pushed them behind his ears and glanced around the yard. She followed his gaze from the clapboard outbuildings, to the nearby picnic spread, to the lawn and surrounding forest. Then his dark brown eyes fixed on her.

Alma forgot her smile. His stare reminded her of the fox she'd seen sniffing at the edge of the yard two days before. Intelligent. Cautious. Just as curious about her as she was of him.

The boy scooted across the wagon bed and dangled his legs over the edge. For the count of several seconds he sat there, undecided, his leather-clad feet swaying high above the grass.

Jump down, Alma breathed.

At last he did.

One by one the other children followed. The school's new teacher, Miss Wells, shepherded them toward the picnic table. Alma moved to join them, but her mother grabbed her hand. Despite the dusting of rouge she'd seen her apply that morning, her mother's face was in want of color. She stared at the new arrivals with the same pinched expression she brandished at stray dogs and street-side beggars.

"You said they would be clean and affable," she said to Alma's father.

"Wagon dust, Cora. They've only just arrived."

"Humph. Not a very impressive lot."

"Give them time."

"A millennium would not be long enough."

"We're their salvation." Her father's voice hummed with excitement. "Here they shall be reborn, civilized and good."

Alma kept her face lowered, tickling a dandelion with the toe of her boot. She knew better than to interrupt her parents' conversation but wished dearly they'd hurry up.

Her mother gestured around the yard. "Indians or not, how are we to raise a genteel young lady in this wildness?" "Come now, La Crosse is only a few miles away."

"Provincial. Hardly fit to be called a city."

Her father squatted down. "What do you think, kitten?"

Alma glanced at the children corralled before the picnic table. "They're awfully funny looking."

"That's just on the outside. Inside they have the same potential as you or I."


"Yes," her father said at the same time her mother shook her head no.

Alma looked over again. It would be so nice to finally have friends her own age. "Let's keep them, Papa. Can we?"

Her father rose and took her hand. He offered his other to her mother. She didn't take it, but strode nonetheless beside them to join the others.

Standing before the picnic table, her father cleared his throat. "Almighty God, Creator and Preserver of the white man and the red man alike, we call upon Thee to bless the founding of this school and the children within its fold. Banish the wickedness from their souls and guide them toward lives of industry and righteousness...."

As her father's gentle voice grew louder, full-throated like that of a ringmaster, Alma peeked at the new arrivals. A few children prayed as they should, hands clasped and heads downturned. The others wandered their gaze around the yard or stared wide-eyed at her father, whose outstretched arms had begun to vibrate along with the timbre of his voice.

Their skin was not really red, but varying shades of brown and copper. Many wore their hair long in braids or ribbon-wrapped ponytails that snaked down their backs.

The Indians she'd seen in her father's color-plate books were strange and fearsome: feathers splayed about their heads, bright bobbles adorning their chests, paint smudged across their cheeks. These children bore little resemblance to those drawings. Most wore pants and dresses similar to those good Christians wore. But whereas Alma's clothes had lace and ruffles, their outfits were ornamented with beads and brocade of astounding color — blues like the sky and the river, reds and yellows like the newly changed leaves. One boy had what looked like horse teeth sewed to his shirt. They jiggled as he shifted from one foot to the other. She reached out to touch one, to see if it were truly a tooth, but dropped her hand at her mother's sharp ahem.

"... Finally, O Lord, bless this food before us. May it nourish our bodies as Thy word nourishes our souls. Hear these our prayers, we beseech Thee, in Christ's name. Amen."

Mrs. Simms bustled from the kitchen at the back of the schoolhouse. Smears of grease and crusts of dried food blotched her apron. She distributed tin plates to the children and motioned with pride to the buffet. They hesitated, but once the first descended upon the food, the rest did likewise, clumping around the table despite the cook's efforts to form them into a line.

One boy with only a narrow patch of hair on the back of his head picked up a chunk of cornbread and brought it to his nose. After several sniffs, he bit off a small corner, then frowned and returned it to the tray. Another child dished out potato salad with his bare hand. A piece of fried chicken was passed and examined by several children before a small girl finally claimed it for her plate. Alma couldn't help but laugh. Didn't they have picnics where they came from?

A whistle cry cut short her giggles. The children froze.

"Halt!" her father cried, blowing his whistle again. "Order, children. Order."

He bustled among Indians, arranging them in a straight line. Alma skipped to the front and took a plate. "I'll show them, Papa."

She dished out small portions of each food, even the mushy-looking green beans — she was, after all, to set an example — and sat down on the unshorn grass a few paces off, carefully tucking her skirt around her.

The next boy in line was a head shorter than Alma. He wore a gray shirt and dark blue pants gartered at the knee. His hair hung loose down to his shoulders, and a nest-like cap of feathers topped his head.

When he turned with his plate of food, Alma grinned up at him and motioned to the grass beside her. He circled wide, plopping down cross-legged several yards away. The other children parted around her in similar fashion, spreading out in small clusters across the lawn. Few would meet her eye. None returned her smile.

Why didn't they want to sit with her? Did she have chicken grease on her face or smell of rotten egg? They were the ones who were strange, after all. She cast aside her half-eaten lunch while the Indians — after a great deal of picking and sniffing — devoured their food and returned for seconds.

After the picnic, a man arrived with a small satchel. A scowl lurked beneath his neatly trimmed mustache. He followed her father to a nearby chair and side table. With one eye still on the Indians, he reached into his satchel and withdrew several metal tools.

"Line up," her father said, and again blew his whistle.

The Indians looked at one another, then back at her father. No one moved.

He sighed and walked among the children, picking out several from the group and molding them into a line. Miss Wells took charge of the others, arranging them single file and marching them around toward the back of the house. The first group, led by her father, moved toward the man and his silver tools.

Alma scrambled to her feet and watched her father maneuver the first child into the chair. The bearded man picked up a pair of long scissors. Sunlight glinted off the tapering blades. He grabbed hold of the girl's long braids and, with two fluid snips, severed the black plaits from her head. The girl cried out and dived to the ground, scrambling toward her hair.

Alma gasped. Why would they cut away the girl's beautiful hair? Then she looked closer at her clothes — threadbare trousers and a button-down shirt. Not a girl. A boy.

Her father pulled the boy back into the chair and, with the help of the surly groundskeeper, Mr. Simms, held him in place while the barber combed and trimmed. All the while, the boy twisted and hollered.

Alma couldn't move. She knew a haircut didn't hurt, but the boy grimaced and fought as if it did. "Stop, you're —"

"Alma!" Her mother's voice cut across her own. "Come here this minute."

She tore her eyes from the boy and hurried to the edge of the schoolhouse, where her mother stood.

"They're stealing that boy's hair."

"You don't see good little white boys with long hair, do you?"

Alma glanced back toward the shining scissors. "But they're hurting him."

"Of course they're not. They're helping him. Less beast, more boy."

It didn't look like they were helping him. Her fingers found their way into her mouth and she gnawed at the soft skin around her nails.

"Stop that." Her mother slapped her hand. "Now come on."

At the back of the house, the Indian girls huddled near three large basins filled with sudsy water. A large bonfire crackled at the edge of the yard. The falling sun hung just above the treetops, the color of a blood orange in the smoky air.

Miss Wells waded among the children, her sleeves rolled and a starched pinafore draped over her gown. She bent and pried off one of the girls' dress and leggings. The girl neither fought nor aided, but stood stock-still with the look of one too frightened to cry.

With puckered lips, Alma's mother tugged at the dress of another. The cook then prodded the naked Indians into the tin basins.

Alma watched, her frown deepening. "Why must they bathe outside?"

"Pestilence, my dear. Must you ask so many questions? Come, we need your help." Her mother held out the girl's clothes at arm's length. "There's an apron for you there by the steps. Put it on and collect these rags."

Pestilence? Alma didn't know the meaning, but her mother spoke as if the word itself tasted foul. She grabbed the apron and collected the clothes, examining each garment for some sign of this awful pestilence. When her arms were full, her mother nodded toward the bonfire.

"Burn them?" Alma looked down at the heap of bright cloth in her arms. "But they're so —"

"Filthy. Fleas, lice, who knows what else."

Though much of the fabric was patched and frayed, Alma saw only a few stains and smudges of dirt. Still, the thought of bugs crawling up her arms made her shiver, and she hurried the clothes across the yard.

At the fire's edge, she hesitated. Tall flames rose above her head. Heat bit at her cheeks. Was it fair to burn their colorful clothes? But then, they were getting new clothes, pretty black dresses to match her own; ones without holes, tatters, or pestilence. She cast the bundle of cotton and leather atop the logs and watched it singe and blacken. The smoke finally chased her away, but only after the shape and color of everything was lost.

When she returned, her mother was bent beside a young girl whose two front teeth were only halfway in, the very same as Alma's. The Indian wore a blouse, calf-length skirt, and leggings, all cut from black broadcloth. Embroidered flowers wound across the fabric. In her arms, she clutched a small doll.

She looked from the doll to the girl's face. Brown eyes stared back, wide like a spooked pony's. Alma had imagined these children would be as excited as she about coming to the new school. But this — the whistle, the haircuts, the burning of their clothes? Would they still want to be her friends afterward?

Her mother yanked the Indian's blouse up and over her head and then pulled at the ties of her skirt. The girl's copper skin turned to goose flesh in the cool evening air. Her cheeks bloomed pink. She covered herself with her arms, clutching the doll in the crook of her elbow.


Excerpted from "Between Earth and Sky"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Amanda Skenandore.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Between Earth and Sky 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous 8 months ago
4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 An absorbing and powerful work of historical fiction. Between Earth and Sky transports the reader to a time most history classes skipped over. The strong opening promises more. “Her past arrived that morning on page ten, tucked between a crosshatched cartoon of striking trolley workers and an advertisement for derby hats. INDIAN MAN FACES GALLOWS FOR MURDER OF FEDERAL AGENT.” I am pulled into this mystery, love story, growing up story/ tragedy about Native American boarding schools. Alternating between the 1880s and 25 years later, we follow lonely 8-year-old Alma as her religious father starts a boarding school in Wisconsin. “’We’re their salvation.’ Her father’s voice hummed with excitement. ‘Here they shall be reborn, civilized and good.’” Descriptions are vivid, but never overdone. “The sun beat off their beautiful brown skin, and their laughter lingered like drifting milkweed seeds in the air.” Appropriate for the time, Skenandore’s strong characters see things in Red and White. Miss Wells, the teacher, addressed the class. “Thanks to the beneficence of the United States Government, you have the opportunity to fully immerse yourselves in civilized culture and to wash away the sins of your former existence.” Indian culture comes alive through the recurrent use of native names and terms. The night forest scene where the Indian children dance and celebrate reverberates with energy and new understandings. Amanda Skenandore visited our neighborhood book group! She shared how the story started with an old photo of a uniformed Native American child hanging on a casino wall. Between Earth and Sky is an awesome choice for all readers and book groups, as it has many types of conflicts (cultures, parent-child, society and expectations, among friends, among spouses, moral conflicts, keeping secrets.) It’s one of the very few books this avid reader has read twice and loved both times. Thank you to NetGalley, the author and publisher for granting access to an arc of this book for an honest review.
KrittersRamblings 10 months ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Alma Mitchell is living a "normal" life when a newspaper takes her back to a time and place of her childhood and she has to go back there and help. Her father was a part of creating a school where Indian children were schooled and she was the only white student. The newspaper article is about a school mate and she feels as though she has to go back and help him through this trial. Although at times it made for hard reading at the same time I appreciated the honesty of including the authentic Indian words and language. It made for slower reading, but it made it a much more honest read and I respected the inclusion of the words.
sandrabrazier More than 1 year ago
Alma Mitchell happens to read the newspaper story about a Native American who is accused of murder and sentenced to hang. Instantly, she panics and asks her lawyer husband if he can help. He is confused, because she has never told him of her past at the Native American school that was run by her parents…nor of the deep friendships she had made there. The Native American accused of murder was once her friend! This is an amazing story that questions the effectiveness of the Native American boarding schools that were established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Their goal was to “tame the savages” and assimilate them into white society. What they succeeded in doing was to make these people outcasts and unable to fit in with either the white people, due to their skin color, or with the Indians, since they had forgotten their traditional ways. This is a wonderfully-written story with realistic characters and unforgettable scenes. It surely makes its point in an effective and memorable way. I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is both smart and well researched but at the same time it's also a page turner that had me up into the night unwilling to put the book down. It brings to light the semi-well intentioned but ultimately tragic practice of Native American boarding schools in the late 1800s and early 1900s brought to life through the eyes of the naive daughter of the proprietor of The Stover School for Indians. It is not only a deliciously entertaining novel, it is also an honest examination of our nation's attitudes, both historical and modern, towards Native Americans. This is a story about friendship, love, privilege, injustice, and perseverance. Truly a must read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The beginning of this story will challenge any of the notions we might carry about the true history of of the treatment of the Native Americans in the United States. Many times in the first several chapters I found it difficult to continue to turn the page-the cruel way of introducing Indian children to Stover school was nearly overwhelming, and I gasped at my own ignorance. One must read this story knowing the faithfulness to historical accuracy is true, and accept it as fact. Each time I set down the story, I was drawn back to it... I had to know, HAD to know what happened next. Authenticity is the highlight of this story, the characters, the internal emotions described, the harsh belief that what the white man believes is right for all. I shed tears of sadness during the last pages of this story... Be brave. A story of finding our authentic voice, follow along with Amanda Skenendore. She does not shy away from the truth, whether it is joyful, painful, lovely, or hate. This story touches all of these feelings, in the face of a US history that would rather be left behind. No matter what else you read, read this book! And finally, I believe it important to say that I am a white male. I, nor may family are native people. Yet, this is an important story.
Kristy_K More than 1 year ago
4.5 Stars Oh my gosh this book broke my heart. There’s a lot in American history that we don’t talk about. It’s skimmed over in school or a pretty or patriotic spin is put on it. In the 1800s the US was busy assimilating Native Americans into their culture, forcing them to dress like them, talk like them, and act like them even though none of the indigenous people expressed a want of this. Skenandore exposes this time in history. Between Earth and Sky follows Alma going from her past as a white child in an assimilation boarding school to the present (1906) where one of her beloved childhood friends, Henry (or Asku), has been charged with the murder of a federal agent. Although Henry’s arrest is the catalyst for this story, it is really about Alma coming to terms with what happened during her time at the boarding house and the treatment of Native Americans. I am glad to have found a historical fiction book that touches on this time period and these events. It wasn't always a comfortable read (how could it be when you hear of some of the atrocities committed against Native Americans), but it was enlightening and heartfelt. ARC provided for honest feedback
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amanda Skenandore’s debut novel, Between Earth and Sky, looks at those deplorable Indian residential schools established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States and Canada. In these schools, children were forced to abandon their Native American identities and cultures, forbidden to speak their own languages. Many cases of physical, emotional and sexual abuse—atrocities performed in the guise of assimilating young Native Americans into “white” culture while committing cultural genocide of the Native American language and customs. While Between Earth and Sky blends the “past” of the 1880s with the “present” of thhe 1900s, there is not sufficient a time difference to expect “white” cultural attitudes towards Manifest Destiny to change. So there is some projection of twenty-first century perspectives here onto the said Manifest Destiny prevailing at that time. I would have liked to have seen a greater depth of response from Alma towards the two Native American deaths she experiences first hand. The level of her reaction seems less than warranted for the violent deaths of a lover and a dear friend. At the same time, Stewart, her husband’s reaction to learning that his wife was not the pristine woman he’d assumed, but that she’d had sexual intercourse with what he considered a sub-human male, was resolved overnight—again, a depth of emotion that seemed insufficient for the situation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this debut novel by Amanda Skenandore, and I look forward to seeing more work from her in the future! The murder of the government agent by a Native American on a reservation makes national news in 1906. And one women, the daughter of the headmaster of a residential school for Native Americans recognizes the accused Native American as a childhood friend she knew from the school. Against his wishes, she begins an investigation into the case that uncovers so much heartache both from the current time as well as the past. This novel sheds such an interesting light on a time and space that gets very little attention from the authors of historical fiction. When I discovered in the afterward that the novel was loosely based on actual events and people, it made the story all the more powerful! This is a book that should be at the top of the list for book clubs across America. This provocative and compelling story will generate plenty of robust conversation for all who read it. I highly recommend!
lauriesophee More than 1 year ago
"After something or someone enters our circle, they travel with us forever, influencing us even if they are not physically present." A wonderfully written novel of historical fiction alternating in chapters from 1881, when Indian children are brought to a new "white" community and school. The goal of "banishing their wickedness from their souls and guiding them toward lives of industry and righteousness" is to be learned. In 1906, one of the classmates from the past is accused of murder. This is an indian man who excelled and graduated with honors at this new school and town. Alma, the daughter of the man who was in charge of this school and is now grown and married, has never forgotten her school friends and feels the need to help her this young man. Can she and will he allow the help? The story is well done and woven beautifully between the time periods.
lauriesophee More than 1 year ago
"After something or someone enters our circle, they travel with us forever, influencing us even if they are not physically present." A wonderfully written novel of historical fiction alternating in chapters from 1881, when Indian children are brought to a new "white" community and school. The goal of "banishing their wickedness from their souls and guiding them toward lives of industry and righteousness" is to be learned. In 1906, one of the classmates from the past is accused of murder. This is an indian man who excelled and graduated with honors at this new school and town. Alma, the daughter of the man who was in charge of this school and is now grown and married, has never forgotten her school friends and feels the need to help her this young man. Can she and will he allow the help? The story is well done and woven beautifully between the time periods.