The beginning of the pandemic was a chaotic, extreme anxiety provoking, fearful time. On top of a deadly virus killing off human beings physically, there was the political rhetoric in the United States of America that was killing us emotionally. Once maniacal political drama subsided, we started getting hopeful about vaccines and then plunged right back into uncertainties about our turn, distribution, fairness, cutting in line, guilt. Now we are slowly opening up and again we are anxious about our ability to mingle with human kind while keeping everyone safe. Phew! That was an exhausting overview.
Amidst all this, I read a lot of books. Last night, I stayed up till midnight (despite it being a work week) to finish a children’s fiction called The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart. It filled me up with a warm fuzzy feeling as I read the last page, smiled at the fact that Gemeinhart was an elementary school teacher/librarian and thanked him for giving this reader solace during these times.
Twelve year old Coyote lives on a school bus driven by her dad Rodeo. They have been crisscrossing the country in that school bus for the last five years which they converted into their home. Five years ago, Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash when she was just seven years old. Since then, her dad left their home in Poplar Springs and drove around with her in their mobile home, the school bus named Yager. They stop at gas stations to fill up with gas, get food – most importantly slushies, and when Coyote can find a kind lady with a cell phone who lets her use it, she calls her grandma at Poplar Springs. Grandma always asks when she was coming home. But Coyote does not have an answer because Coyote and Rodeo do not plan to go home which, they fear, will bring back memories that will torment them for ever. During one such phone conversation, grandma tells Coyote that the park where she used to play with her sisters is being torn up by the city to turn it into a parking lot. But Coyote has a memory box buried underneath a tree in that park which she must rescue. The memory box was created by her mother and her sisters. They intended to go back for it after 10 years but 5 days after burying the memory box, her mom and sisters died in the car crash. Now Coyote needs to get her father to drive back home in exactly four days before the construction begins but she can not tell him that they are going back to Poplar Springs because going back is a hard ‘no go’ with Rodeo. So Coyote must plan to get her way without letting Rodeo know that they were actually heading home. Who knew the journey home is going to be the most difficult one? But Coyote is nothing but tenacious. She figures out a plan to make Rodeo drive in the direction of home. And during their journey back Coyote picks up some misfits who are also searching for their own destinations. There is Lester who needs to find his lady love, Salvador and her mama, Esperanza Vega is running away from a difficult situation, Val is looking for acceptance and of course Gladys needs to go to her mom. But 12 year old Coyote’s first friend, before others joined them, was a cool kitty named Ivan.
The writing is so full of heart, Coyote is such a fierce and spunky girl who carries her sorrow with such bravery and compassion, Rodeo may look like a bearded hippie but one has to look into his eyes and see the kindness that is brimming in him. Everything about this book touched my soul, the tragedy, Coyote and Rodeo’s grief, their overwhelming love for each other and humanity, the friendship, the good will. The author does not shield his young readers from the harshness/reality of life. Life is not easy, tragedies happen, violence happens, lack of acceptance happens but to balance the scale there is love, kindness, friendship, good will and most importantly resilience. The will to continue on this beautiful journey called life wins at the end.