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The Desert Sky Before Us

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  125 ratings  ·  26 reviews
From award-winning author Anne Valente comes this poignant and unforgettable literary novel of two estranged sisters—one, a former racecar driver and the other a recently-released prisoner—who embark on a road trip together to complete the scavenger hunt their mother designed for them before her death.

When Billie is released from a correctional facility in Decatur, her sis
Paperback, 429 pages
Published May 14th 2019 by William Morrow Paperbacks
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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Anne Valente Took me along on this road trip of discovery with her descriptive writing. Sisters Billie and Rhiannon set out on a road trip mapped buy their mother who insists they take the trip after her death. Billie has just been released after being incarcerated for the past six years and Rhiannon is still coming to terms with no longer being a racecar driver. Their mother has given them a journal with map coordinates and crude drawings that will lead them on a treasure hunt of sorts. Along
DJ Sakata
My Rating:


Favorite Quotes:

Rhiannon knows the word sorry will never find its way from Billie’s throat.

She watches him and knows that her anger with him is nothing compared to the heavy weight of what she’s dragged around a prison cell for six years and across so many highways to this place, this moment: that in the end she is most disappointed in herself, no one else.

My Review:

There was family drama aplenty as well as a long and arduous road-trip full of broody tension and uncertainty as two s
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, tob
I loved everything about this book. It checked all my boxes. A scavenger hunt set by a mom before she died, sends two sisters, one just out of prison for setting fire to a library who is also a hawk trainer, the other a former NASCAR racer, on a search given only coordinates.

Dead mom was a renowned paleontologist. All three women have different enough careers and backgrounds to make just this little part of the book interesting. They drive from Illinois to Utah to scatter their moms nonexistent
LynnDee (LynnDee's Library)
Ooh boy. This book tried to do too much and did it dully. Is this a commentary on grief? Or is this a commentary on climate change? You can have both narratives in the same story but make it interesting. For being adult women the characters displayed a lot of teen angst and were really one-note and boring. The whole plane-crash-due-to-climate-change was unnecessary. The way it was tied to the grief storyline was flimsy at best and lazy at worst. And as someone who curses like a sailor, I found t ...more
Suzan Jackson
Two sisters set off on a road trip cross-country, following GPS coordinates their mother left for them before she died. This thoughtful novel delves into family relationships and healing but is also made interesting by its focus on nature, science, and travel. Now I want to hit the road! Read my full review and listen to a sample of the audio book (which I enjoyed):
Kathy Stinson
Interesting enough premise and two Interesting sisters on a journey following the death of their mother. But I was ready for the journey to be over long before the book ended and found needless repetition and the clever use of nouns as verbs so tiresome by the end I almost bumped my rating down to 2. Won’t bother looking for Valente’s other novel.
Getting to spend over 400 pages with Anne Valente’s characters was such a treat – I’m so impressed at how real they feel in short stories, and in a novel format you can get so much more out of them, especially the characters of The Desert Sky Before Us. Rhiannon is an ex-race driver, her sister Billie has just been released from a six-year prison sentence and their mother, a renowned archaeologist, has created a sort of a treasure hunt for her daughters before an illness took her. During th
Michele LaMacchia Zingarelli
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very well written literary novel, The Desert Sky Above Us, is a step up from my usual mystery/thriller. On the surface it's the story of a road trip taken by two sisters after their mother's death. As the sisters drive across the country, following clues left by their archaeologist mother, they begin to really talk to each other for the first time in years, unraveling, thread by thread, secret hurts and long held misunderstandings. Beautiful detailed descriptions of scenes along the way made m ...more
Donna Hines
Jul 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Two estranged sisters ( former race car driver the other a recently released prisoner) embark on a journey they will never soon forget.
It's a journey to find the left over items from their mother ( a scavenger hunt) that takes them out west.
Painful secrets and betrayals forge to the front as these two sisters who've not seen one another in months are now trying to cope with the hurt and pain caused over the years as Rhiannon picks up Billie from the correction facility.
The sisters are certain o
Kim Bakos
Apr 24, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
I know that everyone has taken a vacation or road trip where you are enjoying yourself, like the company you are with, are seeing cool sights, have the perfect playlist going, but still can't wait to be done and go home, too. That's this book in a nutshell.
Two sisters go on a cross-country scavenger hunt on the way to a memorial service for their mother who recently passed away. They see cool places that were important to their mother and pick up mementos that she left for them. Of course, with
Jolissa Skow
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
I think a good word to describe this book is “unusual” – in a good way!

There were a couple things that made this book unusual:

The writing style. Valente chose not to use quotation marks at all, making the book have a certain flow to it that’s fast – like Rhiannon’s racing career.

The main characters. Both of the sisters are not your run-of-the-mill female characters. Billie has half of her head shaved and has just come from prison, and Rhiannon is a lesbian racecar driver (one of the only ones in
Aug 26, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked that this book is about three very different women, and about how little we know our parents, and how different yet the same siblings can be. Little tidbits like what being the only woman race car driver or a woman paleontologist or hawk handler were fascinating, as were the small references to what it was like being gay in a small Midwest town. I didn’t always enjoy the repetitive whiny arguments the sisters had. I liked the settings a lot, since I’ve never been to any of their road tri ...more
Franco Romero
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is gorgeously written and full of characters that are fully explored. Toward the end of the novel is a passage in which the sisters (who I felt like I traveled across the country alongside) have a deeply true and resonant conversation. Reading that passage gave me the courage I needed to make a positive change in my life. And that, in turn, helped me remember why contemporary literature is so important. I'm deeply indebted to this novel and I've recommended it to many people. It's wort ...more
Jun 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
I remember finding this book randomly in the used section of Harvard Bookstore and being stoked about a desert road trip that two sisters take. I don't think I anticipated just how hard it would hit me. Valente's writing style is just enough to kind of keep me on my toes the entire time, it was so interesting. I really love Rhiannon and Billie and this journey. It also confirms for me that the desert will always be in my heart, will always be home, even if I don't live there.
Gwyn Valverde
This book explored the relationship between sisters and their rediscovery of themselves as they take a journey in memory of their mother. If you are looking for a book that tidies up all loose ends, this isn't it. This one leaves some "results" up to the imagination. I am not a fan of the eliminated quotation marks that make it harder to know what character is talking. The subplot regarding mass plane crashes seemed like an afterthought. It was a slow-paced read. Not my favorite but ok.
Jen Bickford
Aug 21, 2020 rated it liked it

I really liked elements of this book the sister relationship, travelling across the US and exploring unusual hobbies but...

The story felt a bit aimless- the subplot never came to anything and the conclusion to the main plot was lukewarm at best.

It’s not a bad book by any means- just not particularly memorable. I wouldn’t recommend rushing to read this but it’s also not terrible if it does sound like a concept you would like.
Anne Brown
This book started out strong for me but got very tiresome along the way. More than once I wondered why I was still reading it and I skimmed the last 100 pages just to finish it. The ending was okay but I found the characters rather unlikable although I understood Billie more than Rhiannon. The writing got old for me - way too much description for nothing. Not sure how it's gotten such high ratings but don't think I'll both reading her other novel.
Staci Marie
Jul 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Now I want to escape the big city and go on a road trip out west and camp under a sky filled with constellations and see the milky way.
The only part I wished was different was about the dad not seeing Jessie for 6 years. The explanation offered seemed really strange.
Jul 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
This was a very enjoyable read and I like reading about Billie and Rhiannon and their interactions seemed very realistic. The road trip was also cool and I liked the low-key mystery vibes. I don't have much to say about it but I really enjoyed reading it.
Bertha Lengauer
Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book very much. Makes you think, climate change?
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not my usual reading material but this was an excellent story, combining family tragedy, road trip, paleontology and climate change.
Jul 05, 2019 added it
I’m gonna need to stop weeping before I write a review.
Elizabeth Rund
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written and aching of realness. This book spans so many topics, love, loss, sisterhood, identy, what it means to be something, and so much more. I loved it.
Micah Hicks
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful, rending novel about two sisters on a road trip to scatter their mother's ashes. One a former racecar driver and the other an ex-con, Rhiannon and Billie follow a web of coordinates their late mother left, each clue cracking them open and making them face the wreckage of their past and the dark, featureless skies of their future.

Each sister has left things behind: Rhiannon an explosive racing career cut short when her sister burns down a library and goes to prison, and her relations
Carla (happiestwhenreading)
May 23, 2019 marked it as did-not-finish
This one had great potential, but there were a few things that just weren't working for me. I appreciate that an author has to dangle some carrots in order to keep their audience engaged, but when those carrots just keep adding up and none of them are resolved, I found that I stopped caring. It ruined the overall excitement for me. Also, there were a few too convenient things that would happen. It's just unrealistic and it was one-too-many eye rolls for me to continue. Last, though no fault of t ...more
Holly M Wendt
rated it it was amazing
May 18, 2019
Annie Hartnett
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Mar 16, 2020
Joshua Finnell
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Jun 11, 2019
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Anne Valente is the author of two novels, The Desert Sky Before Us (William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2019) and Our Hearts Will Burn US Down (William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2016), as well as the short story collection, By Light We Knew Our Names (Dzanc Books, 2014). She is also the author of the fiction chapbook, An Elegy for Mathematics (Bull City Press, 2017). Her fiction appears in One Story, Americ ...more

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