Pack Up the Car and Keep an Eye on ‘The Desert Sky Before Us’ [REVIEW]

brown desert road between green leafed plants under gray cloudy sky during daytime

Following their mother’s death, two sisters must take a road trip cross country in Anne Valente’s The Desert Sky Before Us. (Photo by Flickr on

Estranged sisters. One with a penchant for speed. Another with a track record that landed her in prison. As different as they are, what will it take to break down the walls which divide them and make them a family again? Find out in Anne Valente’s new literary family drama, The Desert Sky Before Us. 


William Morrow

Jail isn’t the only thing that alienated sisters Billie and Rhiannon. Bitter secrets and countless betrayals took care of that. Nevertheless, when Billie is finally released from a correctional facility, it is her sibling who arrives to take her home. As difficult as their reunion is, they both have another trial to face: the death of their mother, a renowned paleontologist.

During the final days of their mother’s life, she conjured up a plan to make her daughters deal with the past. She left behind a trail of bread crumbs for them to follow cross country, all the way to Utah and the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry where she spent her life researching the fossil record. As Rhiannon and Billie follow the trail over long roads and endless days spent in the desert sun, old hostilities and buried memories surface, forcing them to confront their demons and one another.

As if the family angst isn’t enough to drive this story through the heartland of America, a series of plane crashes makes the news and raises the stakes on their journey west. But the journey isn’t just in their mother’s memory, it is one which will ultimately heal their hearts and bridge the chasm between them.

The Desert Sky Before Us might be summed up as August: Osage County meets Thelma and Louise. It pairs the classic road trip story of self discovery with selfish, and somewhat bitter family characters no one in their right mind would want to be trapped in a car with, at least at the beginning. Over the course of the novel, however, we see the two leading ladies of this story bond over shared secrets even as they swap nasty barbs and caustic banter. As Jack Nicholson says in As Good As It Gets, “Some of us have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes, with boats, and friends, and noodle salad. Just no one in this car.” And that’s the case with these two siblings who are thrown together in the wake of their mother’s demise.

As a vacation guide, this story is a gem. It showcases a great many places one should see if they ever decide to drive across this gorgeous country of ours and take in all the sights. In that way, it is beautifully written and delivers some deftly drawn descriptions that will have readers adding new travel destinations to their bucket list. The road to redemption and grace is long and monotonous, however, like those tedious family vacations we all despised as a child, where the air conditioning was on the fritz and our siblings wouldn’t stop touching us. Similarly, The Desert Sky Before Us is filled with postcard perfect scenery, but we simply can’t wait for the trip itself to end.

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Anne Valente

Anne Valente
(Photo by Josh Finnell)


Anne Valente is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down. Her short story collection, By Light We Knew Our Names, won the Dzanc Books Short Story Prize.

Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, The Believer, Catapult, the Rumpus, and the Washington Post, among other publications.

Originally from St. Louis, she currently lives in upstate New York and teaches at Hamilton College. Visit her home on the Web at and follow her on Twitter.

By Anne Valente
448 pp. William Morrow. $15.99

TLC Book Tours Tour HostPurchase The Desert Sky Before Us at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, HarperCollins, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

The Desert Sky Before Us is brought to you in association with TLC Book Tours.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

4 Responses to Pack Up the Car and Keep an Eye on ‘The Desert Sky Before Us’ [REVIEW]

  1. Pingback: Review: The Desert Sky Before Us - Literary Quicksand

  2. Sara Strand says:

    I have to add this to my list! This sounds like the best book to read on my upcoming road trip! Thanks for being a part of this tour! Sara @ TLC Book Tours

  3. Pingback: Anne Valente, author of The Desert Sky Before Us, on tour May 2019 | TLC Book Tours

  4. debgilmore says:

    Hi guys!  Had a nice visit with. Your mom and Squeak.    Hope y’all doing. Fine!!!

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

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