2 reviews

Hold Up the Sky
by Patricia Sprinkle

Published: 2010-03-02
Paperback : 432 pages
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From a veteran writer new to the Accent list, a novel about four women who find strength and insight in each other.

Mamie is facing an overwhelming secret. Margaret has lost her home. Billie can no longer care alone for her disabled daughter. And Maria is living with an untenable ...
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From a veteran writer new to the Accent list, a novel about four women who find strength and insight in each other.

Mamie is facing an overwhelming secret. Margaret has lost her home. Billie can no longer care alone for her disabled daughter. And Maria is living with an untenable choice. When these four women come together to live on a drought-stricken Georgia farm, they must open their hearts, and share their burdens, before they can find the bounty that lies hidden in tough times, and once again see the glorious pattern of meaning in their lives.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


Some people keep memories in scrapbooks or diaries. Mine are preserved in quart Ball jars. They sit on my pantry shelves in shining rows. As autumn sunlight glances off their bright faces, they gleam like stained glass: scarlet tomatoes, emerald beans, golden peaches, and blueberries the color of my sister’s eyes.

I need to be getting ready. We have a busy day. But first I tiptoe to the pantry to touch the jars. Like Dorothy’s ruby slippers they have magic to take me home—to Daddy’s steaming kitchen, where I worked last summer with three other women through drought-stricken weeks. Outside, it was so hot that the children’s plastic pool softened and sagged. The kitchen was a sauna. We were not friends, though two of us were sisters. Conversation flared in irate outbursts or limped out in reluctant confessions. But if a holy place is where God is, then these jars are sacred relics.

I brush away a tear as I stroke a jar of beans.

“What are you doing?” my daughter demands from the pantry door.

Cerebral palsy bends Michelle almost double and freezes her fingers into improbable positions, like twigs on a tree. Her feet turn in, her tongue lolls, her head is twisted into a slant of permanent inquiry. But she has her daddy’s golden eyes and my dimples, and I think her beautiful. I wish others saw her as I do.

She is saucy, funny, and smart. She has learned to operate a power chair by moving her head. She is learning to use a computer to keep up in kindergarten. However, at five going on fifteen, she has started making frequent spot checks on my behavior to make sure her mother remains somewhere on the fringes of normal.

Her sensors are fine-tuned this morning. When she catches me touching jars in the pantry, she knows I’m not checking to see if we have enough food to last through the winter.

“Mama! We need to get ready. What are you doing?”

“Looking at these jars.” My finger traces a jar of tomatoes, lingering on a spot where sunlight shoots sparks off the glass. “It was tomatoes we canned first,” I murmur.

“Mama!” Michelle packs whole paragraphs into that one word.

“Sorry, honey. I was thinking about Mamie, Emerita, and Aunt Margaret. Stuff we talked about while we put up these jars.”

I see a flicker of interest in her eyes. Yesterday she would have begged, “Tell me a story.” This morning she quenches the flicker to take charge of the family. “Bo-o-ring. You need to hurry.”

Don’t hurry, Michelle! Don’t grow up so fast! Don’t lose the wonder you have as a child. When you have passed through stormy years to become whoever you will be, I cannot promise you will find wonder waiting on the other side.

“I hate it when you say ‘bo-o-ring’ like that,” I remind her.

Her golden eyes flash with mischief. “I know. That’s why I said it.”

I pinch her nose lightly. “You little devil.” When she teases, she is my imp child again.

Having jerked my chain to get a smile, she shifts her head to make her chair turn. “Come on. Help me get dressed.”

“I’ll be there in a second.”

As she rolls toward her bedroom, I see her rolling through years to come. Before I know it she, too, will be a woman. Will she have an easier time learning what I learned in that sweltering kitchen?

I press a cool jar of beans to my cheek. For Michelle’s sake I will preserve on paper what I first preserved in jars. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

1) Which of the four women in this book did you feel the most compassion for and why?
2) How has each of the main characters contributed to her own troubles by choices she has made and which of her troubles were not of her own making?
3) In what ways does each of the characters grow during their long hot summer together?
4) Billie and Margaret experience two very different kinds of poverty. Which of them do you most identify with and why?
5) Emerita’s arrival raises questions for Margaret about undocumented immigrants in this country, yet by the end of the book she is praying for Emerita’s safety. “It’s not about immigration laws, it’s about Emerita,” Margaret says. How does knowing a person rather than knowing about a situation change our perspective?
6) This story is partly about the glue that holds a family together. What issues arose for the family after Grace’s death that have to be addressed in this story? What precipitates various changes in Bill, Billie, and Margaret?
7) Have you experienced a difficult time which other women got you through?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from the author:

What does a woman do when she reaches the end of her rope? She finds another woman to help her tie on another piece. That is the premise of HOLD UP THE SKY.

The title comes from a proverb that “Women hold up half the sky.” Four women—Billie Waits, Margaret Baxter, Mamie Fountain, and Emerita Gonzalez—are holding up more than their share one summer as they work together in a sweltering kitchen. Fiercely independent, each has a secret that threatens to overwhelm her. Billie’s estranged husband has stopped sending checks to support their handicapped daughter. Margaret has lost her husband, her house, and her older son. Emerita is terrified of being deported. And Mamie has a secret she won’t tell even her daughter.

They are not friends, although two are sisters, but as they share their stories in angry outbursts and reluctant confession, they learn how much they have in common. They discover their true strength lies not in independence but in interdependence, and only together can they hold up the sky.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Great Read!"by NoleChica (see profile) 07/13/10

  "HOLD UP THE SKY"by AWHC (see profile) 07/07/10

It was a wonderful and beautiful story.

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