Berkley Sensation, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-25489-9
Historical Romance, 2013 (Reissue)
Genevieve Turner’s debut published novel Under the Same Sky was first published in 2012 in trade paperback format. You know what this means, right? Either it’s an erotic romance or it’s a story that is more historical fiction than romance. Well, this is not an erotic romance, but it is not exactly a work of historical fiction as well, as it has a strong romantic element in its premise. However, this is an “I” story: both the heroine Maggie Johnson and the hero Andrew MacDonnell take turn narrating this story from their respective first person point of view.
Maggie is in South Carolina. It’s a hard time, as her family are poor, Daddy was a mean drunk (although he worked hard for the money), and then, Daddy died. Anything that can go wrong for a family of four women in a land surrounded by violent men happens on the poor ladies, and eventually Maggie and her sister end up in the care of the Cherokees. Meanwhile, Andrew is in the Scottish highlands, and there is a war going on that decimates most of what and whom he holds dear. These two share a bond despite the ocean between them, however: Maggie has a gift of second sight, and since she was a child, she and Andrew often meet in their dreams. They grow up together, so to speak, and now, with each of them pretty much all alone in the world, he decides to cross the ocean to find her.
This sounds good, right? Well, hold that thought and buckle down that adrenaline before you dash off to get this book. There are… issues.
Under the Same Sky starts out very gritty, as the author doesn’t sugarcoat the harsh and brutal reality of life in those days. I like how Maggie, despite being an ordinary girl thrust in a horrific nightmare of a life, manages to stay strong in a realistic and heartbreaking manner. I thought at first that this is going to be a book that would break my heart and make me love every crack and fault it causes in the process.
Unfortunately, maybe because the author wants to compensate for the horrific stuff she’d inflicted on her hero and heroine, she soon goes too far the other way and ends up miring the story in a most clichéd territory: the Special White Young Girl Adopted by the Natives trope. Wounded, traumatized Maggie bonds with the wise old lady of the Cherokee tribe, blossoms under the respect and admiration of the Cherokees, and is soon singing Colors of the Wind as she traipses free and whips her hair in the winds that blow through the land where the people that bond with the land are all perfect, wise, sage, democratic, selfless, magnanimous, nature-humping avatars of awesomeness at one with the moon, the stars, the bobcats, and the dungs of the beautiful earth. She even earns the undying love of some well-muscled hunk, although her heart is forever bound to that of the white dude from Scotland whom she’d never met in real life. I guess like attracts like, and who cares if that other guy treats her like gold and cherishes the ground she walks on – dream bonds are more powerful than anything else, you know.
Meanwhile, Andrew traipses his own way to Maggie, becomes a landowner without much effort, and gets other windfalls to pave his way to become the perfect husband – loaded, propertied, and flat-stomached. They meet only very close to the end, so to believe the happy ending, the reader needs to believe in the power of dreamland woo-woo. This is love, because the author says so and the characters feel so. No, she won’t eventually learn that he burps after each meal, he won’t discover that she doesn’t like to bathe – despite the fact that they don’t really know one another, this is a big fat happily ever after, yes indeed.
At the end of the day, Under the Same Sky is like two different books forcefully spliced together. The first half is gritty, horrific, and absolutely riveting, even cathartic. The second half is another retread of those chick-lit style knock-offs of Jean M Auel’s Earth’s Children books with all that “special sensitive woman raised by a tribe of adorable salt of the earth types” drama that I thought has gone extinct since we entered the 21st century. I don’t know what to make of this, but I do feel that I’ve been cheated of a good story.