Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Floor of the Sky, by Pamela Carter Joern

Reading The Floor of the Sky makes me think that perhaps this is the Age of Organics. Not because this novel and the world are increasingly rich in organic foods, but because this novel and current norms seem increasingly focused on the creation of organic relationships, not only with food, but also with the land and other elements of the universe.

This adult novel, recommended for teen readers by the Young Adult Library Services Association, tells the story of a teenage girl, Lila, and her decision-making related to the baby she bears within her pregnant body. Because the novel was not conceived especially for teenage readers, the story focuses primarily on the complicated relationships Lila has to her rural Nebraskan family, and especially the uncovering of various secrets that swirl around Lila's benefactor and the family matriarch, Toby. Indeed, it is Toby's efforts to come to terms with her own past decision-making, and relationships to her neighbors, daughter, family, and region that are really at the heart of this novel.

Even though a central theme is the creation of organic relationships, there is little that is stereotypically organic about the characters in this text. There is a prayer wheel that Toby walks around, and some neighbors who are raising cattle in a more natural, "traditional" way. But Lila and her grandmother are rough and rugged individualists, who avoid for the most part following trends or easy paths. They live on a ranch, go to rodeos, and disparage weak thinking--something that has been going on in their family and their part of the world for many years.

In the background are some familiar challenges of modern life, and contemporary rural life in particular: teenage pregnancy, meth addiction, economic instability, divorce, and rigid family patriarchs. Toby and Lila face these problems without apparant fear, but with a good deal of uncertainty and moral resolve.

Given that The Floor of the Sky so clearly represents the importance of growing healthy, organic relationships among rural people and their environments, it's ironic that the novel as a whole doesn't cohere quite as well as one might hope. Pamela Joern tells her story from multiple perspectives, and each unit of description and insight is well planned, beautifully written, and entertaining within itself. Unfortunately, the pieces don't always come together seamlessly or satisfyingly. At the end, one remembers some really beautiful patches of writing about rural land and people, rather than a terrific storyline.

Despite this minor flaw, I'm looking forward to reading more by Pamela Joern, and I think older teenagers with an interest in feminism and/or rural life also will enjoy this novel very much. High school teachers looking for material to explore contemporary rural life and writing from different perspectives also might find this book interesting, perhaps in combination with The World Made Straight, another novel that explores the contemporary rural world with clarity and grace.

If you have a little time on your hands, and want to return to the topic of organic food, check out this satirical video below called "Store Wars."

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