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Toby's Last Resort

In this thoughtful and moving novel Pamela Carter Joern probes the complications of family relationships, identity, belonging, and the impact of long held-secrets.


     "The last time we saw Toby, she was sitting on George's front porch, facing east toward the promise of daybreak while the sun squatted in the western sky. Hear that? The lilting strain of a meadowlark, solo piccolo. Toby follows the worn path from the front porch of George's house over the rise to the family cemetery. Late afternoon in early summer. Prairie grass rolls across the hills, verdant from spring rains, dotted here and there by a lonesome tree. A breeze tickles the sage, rattles the leaves in the cottonwoods. The air smells brisk and green as fresh scythed hay. Toby stops at the top of the rise, lets her gaze follow the sweep of land, turns to take in all four directions. She owns this property as far as the horizon, homesteaded by her grandfather not long after the Civil War. She's the last Bolden likely to live here, and she's grown old. What will happen to this land when she's gone? For now, Toby finds solace standing on the ground she's known all her life, covered by a canopy of sky tucked to the four corners of the earth."

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The Floor of the Sky

Nebraska Book Award

 Barnes and Noble Great New Writers' Selection

Alex Award 

Takes place on the Bluestem Ranch 10 years before 

Toby's Last Resort. 

"Joern intricately weaves together a compelling family saga and a  beautifully rendered paean to the land her characters love and are struggling to preserve. . . Joern's lyrical and painterly descriptions of the vast Sandhills are the perfect backdrop for this subtle drama."


"Playwright Joern's characters are as stern as the land, and the world of her debut novel is sturdy and memorable."

                   --Publishers Weekly

"An emotionally rich first novel about an unwed pregnant teen spending the summer with her grandmother in the hardscrabble Nebraska Sandhills . . Seventy-two and long widowed, Toby is no fawning grandma."                

                     --Kirkus Reviews 

". . . a true gem of the storyteller's art, written with great compassion, wit and wisdom about the human condition, family secrets, and the sweeping changes in contemporary rural America."                                                      --Midwest Book Review

"Pamela Carter Joern writes with compassion and a wry sense of humor, in a direct and true style that takes in the vivid details of the world of the Nebraska Sandhills and the complexities and nuances of her characters' inner lives. Her work may bring to mind the novels of Kent Haruf and Larry McMurtry--though, like the fiercely independent women that populate her novel, Joern is clearly an original."

                      --Dan Chaon, author of You Remind Me of Me

"[Joern's] characters are sensible, endearing, and deeply haunted . . . Secrets, old and new, keep the past constantly bumping into the present, making for a mesmerizing family saga."

                       --Timothy Schaffert, author of The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God

"Pamela Carter Joern is a stunningly talented writer, a fearless teller of hard truth. . . The Floor of the Sky is a tale of quiet heroics, a story of tenacity and courage, an intimate glimpse into the lives of independent ranchers determined to survive. A powerful portrayal of family, land, and loyalty."

                      --Sheila O'Connor, author of Where No Gods Came and Tokens of Grace 


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In Reach

Nebraska Book Award

Finalist: Minnesota Book Award

Related Short Stories

". . . What makes this collection hit home for readers are the town's imagery, the underlying tensions of tangled relationships and the array of distinct individuals presented. . . These stories are raw and wrenching. The events that tear Joern's characters apart will do the same to the reader. That's part of the collection's beauty. Her deeply empathetic prose masterfully captures nuanced emotions that linger after her tales conclude."

             --Emily Case, Nebraska Life Magazine

". . . the stories of In Reach seem taut, pared down, precise, as great short stories often do, even as Joern writes with great insight into the psyche of characters."

               --Kirk Zebolsky, Omaha Books

"With prose as honest in its portrayal of joy and hope as it is in its portrayal of sorrow and desperation, the stories in Pamela Carter Joern's collection, In Reach, offer a beautiful and often heartrending glimpse into the longings, fears, accomplishments, and tragedies of ordinary people. . . What I found most impressive about this collection was the range of subjects the author covered with both honesty and insight."

              --Aaron Klink, Collegeville Institute website

"In Reach is an elegant, pitch perfect book . . . Pamela Joern has once again demonstrated that she's the real thing, a masterful writer capable of showing us the world through the passions, disappointments, secrets, losses, and small achievements of characters whose submerged lives are played out against the harsh beauty of the Nebraska plains." 

            --Ladette Randolph, author of Haven's Wake

"In Reach is a Winesburg, Ohio for the contemporary Great Plains . .

Filled with complicated human stories, it a joy to read and will stay with the reader a long time."

           --Dan O'Brien, author of A Wild Idea

"Pamela Carter Joern's fictional village of Reach, Nebraska, is populated by people you have known, or known of, all your life. In these glimpses of life as it is really lived, you will encounter your aunt Ella, your grandfather Leland, even the uncle no one mentions. You may agree that God is not absent if you are there. You will never forget Marlene and Vernon. Each character is doing "the best he can do" to harvest satisfaction from their lives. Searching for connections, you will find these folks in reach of your heart."

         --Linda Hasselstrom, author of No Place Like Home and Dirt Songs

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The Plain Sense of Things

Midwest Bookseller's Connections Pick

A Novel In Stories

". . . Joern gives us a portrait of a rural Nebraska family from 1930 through 1979 . . . As we follow the family through the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar boom, we see the changing American attitudes about marriage, work, and family."

                --Library Journal

"The Plain Sense of Things is a book about losses, little deaths that wear away at people and at families, but these little deaths aren't the real story. What is the real story is how people handle those little deaths with some kind of perpetual hope and resilience, a sense that having someone to care for, to come back to, to hurt with, gives all failures and "little deaths" meaning."

                 --Diane Drake, North Dakota Quarterly

"The clarity and honesty of Joern's prose impart a quiet intensity to this novel about a family enduring a hardscrabble existence in western Nebraska. Shaped by place and by each other, strong, flawed characters struggle through love and pain to create rich and dignified lives well worthy of our attention."

                  --Tripp Ryder, Carleton College Bookstore

"The Plain Sense of Things is spare, generational, filled with to-the-bone experiences . . . amazing, [a] good read, great for discussion."

                   --Glenda Martin, Book Women

"Pam Joern works her quiet, penetrating magic to tell a deeply moving story of endurance and family love and loyalty. . . Joern depicts a hardscrabble Midwestern world whose simplicity and starkness are deceiving. Her characters are complex, passionate, memorable. . . Nebraska has found its chronicler and the world a first-rate storyteller."

                   --Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of Butterflies

"There is a lovely solemnity to the lives of these characters--a hardness that Joern knows is alloyed with an abiding tenderness. That undercurrent is carried along in deceptively simple prose, writing that is stunningly clear."

                  --Jane Hamilton, author of The Book of Ruth and The Map of the World

"A moving family saga full off memorable characters whose struggles to survive the hardships of rural Nebraska life will haunt the reader."

                 --Jonis Agee, author of The River Wife

One of these stories, "Never Mind," was adapted into a one-act play for the Twin Cities Fringe Festival (2012) by Karen Bair and Helena Webb. 

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