Reading Knoxville: Under The Same Blue Sky

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Book by Pamela Schoenewaldt, Reviewed by Michael K. Smith, Ph.D.

 

Mike-Smith-Review-9_2015

Hazel Renner’s mother foresaw great things for her daughter: “…I’ve known from the first that you were destined to be extraordinary…an extraordinary teacher. I’ve seen signs.” Hazel, however, had different plans: “In my future dreams, the ‘extraordinary’ meant travel, sketching, painting, meeting great artists, and passing golden hours in a storied café, funding these adventures through teaching and tutoring.”

Under the Same Blue Sky traces Hazel Renner’s struggles to achieve these early dreams. Hazel, the daughter of German-Americans who run a hardware store in Pittsburgh, begins her search for an “honorable profession” by accepting a teaching job in a one-room schoolhouse in a small Pennsylvania town. However, the time is 1914 and World War I has just started. Anti-German hysteria is starting to spread. For instance, Hazel describes her family taking their daily walk, “So [my father] was reading the headlines. Then two hoodlum boys shoved them, ripped the Volksblatt from his hands and threw it in the gutter. They said real Americans read American newspapers.” Her parents thought that Hazel might escape this stereotyping: “Yes, I was my parents’ ‘real American,’ while they’d be forever branded as foreigners the instant they opened their mouths…Because I had no accent, shopkeepers didn’t speak loudly and slowly to me as if I were deaf or dull-witted.”

Hazel, however, cannot escape the fact that she is the daughter of immigrants. Her teaching job starts well, but as Hazel develops a miraculous “healing touch”, the residents develop suspicions that she is the source of many of the town’s mysteries and miseries. Hazel leaves and finds herself in New Jersey, working as an assistant to a German Baron who appraises and sells valuable artwork. The baron agonizes over the war, “We’re losing the Balkans. Germany our mother, America our wife. What happens when the wife is strangling the mother?” At the Baron’s castle Hazel falls in love with Tom, the gardener. Tom later volunteers to fight in the war; Hazel has to wait nervously for months to see if he survived.

In Under the Same Blue Sky, Pamela Schoenewaldt has not only written a gripping tale of the early 20th immigrant experience, but also a story that should resonate with many immigrants today.

“Where does one go when dreams turn sour and promises become pain?” Hazel becomes a model for the immigrant’s experience in America as she attempts to answer her question. Thrust into a new country by immigrant parents, Hazel is torn between sympathies shared by her parents and longings she has nurtured in America. She wants her own career; a career that reflects her incipient talents. However, she is tossed by storms of anti-German sentiment even as she tries to find her place in different communities. She falls in love, but her prospective partner is also thrown into the wartime conflict.

In Under the Same Blue Sky, Pamela Schoenewaldt has not only written a gripping tale of the early 20th immigrant experience, but also a story that should resonate with many immigrants today. Furthermore, Hazel Renner also symbolizes the progress of women in America as they strive to develop an occupation in addition to a family. Under the Same Blue Sky is an enriching read for young adults and their parents.

Amazon link to Pamela’s book: http://www.amazon.com/Under-Same-Blue-Sky-Novel/dp/0062326635
Michael K. Smith, Ph.D., is owner of TESTPREP EXPERTS (www.testprepexperts.com ) which prepares students for standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. He is also a consultant to Discovery Education Assessment. He can reached at mike@testprepexperts.com.

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