I wondered, as I read the editor’s note in the beginning of Erin Bow’s middle grade novel Stand on the Sky,if the book could stand up to the advance praise. She said she hoped she would be the one allowed to publish this truly extraordinary story of Aisulu’s bond with an eagle that came with themes of perseverance, love, and family.
I began the advance reading copy furnished by Net Galley of the book that comes out on March 5, and understood that a treat was in store in an early simile, “Your horse . . . is dumb as two bags of rocks and a Russian tourist.” I was soon lost in a world unfamiliar to me, doing things I would never dream of doing as I somehow became Aisulu rescuing a baby eagle and training it for the big contest among the Kazakh nomads. Taking on an activity some think should be reserved for men is not the first difficult decision Aisulu makes as she refuses to keep her brother’s limping a secret and reports to her parents that he needs medical care for his leg.
Interspersed into a riveting story of her being left behind as the family seeks treatment for her brother with a daunting uncle and his Fox Wife who doesn’t quite fit neatly into the family, are bits and pieces of wisdom that stopped me short. “There is no joy like the fierce joy of doing what you are meant to do.” The words are assigned to the eagle, but the human application is not missed.
In time, Aisulu realizes that the Fox Wife is not a witch or trickster as she has been labelled but was different because she had made different choices. Then her big lesson comes, repeated more than once, that family are the people who choose you, no matter what.
The author’s note at the end gave insight into how Erin Bow was able to take her readers to the mountains of Mongolia, put them on a horse, and have them catch an eagle on their wrists. My initial wondering about the editor’s advance praise was answered with a resounding “yes!” It is a book not to be missed.