Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: Race Across the Sky by Derek Sherman

Some people love to run. It can be a compulsion, an escape, a state of mind. For people who love to run, it is more than just exercise, more than just banging out a handful of miles. It is a necessity akin to breathing. But even people who feel this way do not often go so far as to consider a marathon; even fewer consider ultramarathons. The amount of time required to train for a simple marathon alone scuttles many peoples’ fledgling desire or fleeting thought of running so far, never mind the staggering amount of time devoted to training for 100 mile or more runs. Those who persevere devote untold hours to the sport. And those who run ultramarathons must devote their entire lives and beings to training. In Derek Sherman’s debut novel, Race Across the Sky, Caleb Oberest is an elite ultramarathoner who lives and breathes running to the exclusion of everything else, including his long-estranged biotech salesman brother, Shane, until a young woman with a baby suffering from a fatal genetic condition breaks into his world and his heart, forcing him to consider that life is more than just running.

Caleb lives in a house run by his coach and trainer, Mack, a man whose techniques are strict, unorthodox, and non-negotiable. The rest of the Oberest family considers Caleb’s living situation to be cult-like given the fact that he quit his high paying, successful career to work at a copy shop, train for hours every day, share a house and a tiny room with other runners, abide by stringent rules not of his own devising, and all but severed ties with his parents and his brother in pursuit of a goal they don’t quite understand. Shane, by contrast, lives in San Francisco with his wife, working as a successful salesman in big pharma, and expecting his first child. But he is questioning certain things in his life when he receives a letter from his brother asking him to visit. At first he resists but he loves his brother and would like nothing more than to extricate Caleb from the Happy Trails house so in the last week before his son is born and as he changes jobs from big pharma to biotechnology, he goes out to Boulder and meets with Caleb, June, and baby Lily. When Caleb asks him to look into help for Lily, whose alpha-one antitrypsin deficiency has been attacking her lungs since birth, and tells Shane he'll leave Happy Trails if it could help Lily, Shane agrees and enlists the help of an outstanding scientist at his new firm. The problem is, what they are doing is illegal, but they don't have the luxury of time to go through the proper channels, nor would the firm research this rare disorder in any case.

As Shane risks his livelihood for the older brother he has always loved, Caleb continues living and working in Mack's house and under his rules. He is, of course, breaking the cardinal rule by loving June and Lily and Mack sees his attachment to them as jeopardizing Caleb's career as an ultramarathoner, something Mack has invested a lot of time in and refuses to relinquish. He is determined that Caleb will run and win the reinstated (and Mack engineered) Yosemite Slam, a race so dangerous it had been discontinued after the death of a well-known runner. In order to intensify Caleb's focus, he is banned from June and Lily, is told to quit his job at the copy shop, and to live, eat, and breathe Mack's training methods. And he does it. Because running is his whole life, his entire being found in the clarity of hours on the trail pushing through any pain that breaks into his consciousness. As Shane and the doctor race to find a way to cure Lily's disease, Caleb is also racing for his (and her) life.

Sherman has done a fantastic job writing the experience of running. He has captured the singular focus of these elite athletes and the intensity of their vision and drive. The scenes where Caleb is running are incredibly powerful with a very realistic mental turn inward to find the reserves and the strategies that keep him putting one foot in front of the other. The scenes with Shane and Prajuk working to find a way to control the disease for one small baby are thrilling in a different way but equally compelling. Having Shane, a sales guy rather than a scientist, involved in creating a lab and learning about the process for creating a biochemical drug, means the non-scientific reader also learns with Shane without it feeling forced. This is very definitely a plot driven novel; the reader turns the pages at a good clip to see whether Shane can beat Lily's disease and break his brother's addiction to running or if time will run out for all of them. The reading is very compelling and there's an element of thriller too but there's also the fascination of an ultra sport and the promise of biotechnology not just in the future but in the now. Sherman has written a gripping novel that raises many ethical questions which he must by necessity keep unanswered but which will stay with the reader and intrigue him or her long after the last page is turned.

For more information about Derek Sherman and the book, check out his website or follow him on Twitter. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. Wow, this sounds intense!! Fantastic review, Kristen! Thank you so much for being on the tour for Race Across the Sky!

  2. Wow, this sounds intense!! Fantastic review, Kristen! Thank you so much for being on the tour for Race Across the Sky!

  3. Thank you for such an insightful and thoughtful review f my book Kristen. I appreciate it, Derek Sherman


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