ALL THE EARTH, THROWN TO THE SKY by Joe Lansdale
I’m a big fan of Joe Lansdale’s fiction, and I prefer his books where he writes about the past and small town life (The Bottoms, A Fine Dark Line, Sunset and Sawdust). Joe’s also a friend and I respect his view of life a lot. You get quite a bit of that in these books.
All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky is Joe’s first young adult novel, and – as I’d expected – it’s a doozy. The novel kept me nailed to the pages and I read it in two sittings only because I couldn’t put it down. From the opening chapter where young Jack Catcher’s mom dies and his has to cut down his daddy’s body from the barn rafter so he can bury them together, Joe puts his readers inside the perspective of his young hero.
A lot of reviewers make a lot of the fact that any hero whose initials are JC must be some kind of Christ figure. The only JC that came to mind when I was reading this book was John Carter, the iconic hero created by Edgar Rice Burroughs that romped across the dead plains of Mars. John Carter’s motto “I still live” resonates through the pages and is mentioned by Jack and Jane, the outstanding young heroine that seizes center stage so much of the time.
The book is set in the Great Depression, starting out in Oklahoma and wandering down to Texas, more specifically East Texas where Joe lives. Along the way our young characters cross paths with the dust storms, dead folks, bank robbers, and a swarm of grasshoppers that literally eats the shirt off Jack’s back. Oh, and there are hobos and assorted villains as well.
The book is a coming of age tale in a lot of ways, but it’s squarely centered in hard times and in the human heart. I love the character of Jack Catcher because he’s the soul of every young boy that ever lived. He’s innocent and wise at the same time, knowledgeable and naïve.
Jane, on the other hand, is more pragmatic, a natural con artist down to her bones, but a romantic who wants to believe in things that don’t often exist in the real world. She’s got a smart mouth and a fearlessness that I found distinctly appealing, but she also knows her limitations and shortcomings.
Joe has crafted this book with love, and it shows in the descriptions of people and situations. There’s poetry in the words, in the dialogue, and in the emotions that rattle around in Jack as his world steadily gets bigger and more dangerous.
The novel contains a lot of truth as well, and it isn’t really a historical novel, though it is set in a specific time period. The things Joe writes about – about friendship and love and wonder and the elements of youth and innocence – are timeless things that can be shared across generations.