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But today I dream of falling...into the crowd of God-struck people. The pale leaves of their faces tilt up and their white limbs rise to catch me as I am passed among the river of their hands, one to another, am kept by them, am kept.
-- from Walking on Air
It is the Depression in America, 1931. Twelve-year-old June is a tightrope walker. Performing in her preacher father's revival shows, June travels through cities, makeshift camps, carnivals, and freak shows. The family has no home, no money, no friends -- and faith that is getting thinner than the air upon which June walks. On her journey June examines her life and is torn between loyalty to her family and their religion, and the life she might have. She comes to understand that discovering what the world has in store for her will require facing old family secrets and making some gut-wrenching decisions.
Walking on Air is a stirring novel of self-examination, as June balances on a literal and figurative tightrope within the rich and tormented landscape of America during the Depression. Facing the problems of her day, June must use her wit, fire, and strong spirit in order to triumph.
Setting her novel in 1931, Easton (The Life History of a Star) crafts a memorable heroine in narrator June, daughter of a traveling preacher-cum-con artist. June walks a figurative and literal tightrope as she performs in her father's revival show but also catches him spending the collection box money. His hypocrisies go much further: he forbids June to attend school ("What's she gonna learn? That man is descended from apes?" he says derisively) yet strategically outfits her in a "scant" costume for her act. When a past crime catches up with him and lands him in jail for five months, June, her mother and the family's on-again, off-again assistant, the mute Rhett, finally enjoy some stability (and give readers some pretty obvious clues as to Rhett's true identity). Well researched Depression-era details heighten the desperation of June's dysfunctional, secret-ridden family and their transient, hand-to-mouth existence, which includes a stint in a Hooverville. Throughout, June muses on the plights of women in the Bible, the contradictions within her father's brand of religion, the flawed people whom she has met while traveling in carnivals and sideshows, and she ends up forging a faith of her own. The plot accelerates too abruptly from grimness to joy as it nears the conclusion, but along the way Easton ably establishes a complex, highly charged atmosphere and mediates it with sympathy and intelligence. Ages 12-up.