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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New novel, ‘Leaning on Air’ set in the Palouse

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

The rolling hills of the Palouse speak to author Cheryl Grey Bostrom.

As a newlywed, she taught at Colfax High School while her husband finished his degree at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Though they’ve lived in rural Whatcom County for many years, they often return to the area to visit friends.

That’s why her second novel, “Leaning on Air” (Tyndale, 2024), is set in the heart of the Palouse – specifically between Pullman and the Snake River breaks at Penawawa.

“I love the Palouse,” Bostrom said. “I always want the natural world to be a character in my books, and that land speaks to me.”

Local readers will also find references to other familiar scenes.

They rode through the open, horizon-kissing sweep of Eastern Washington then, until the freeway funneled them into Spokane and an exit spit them toward Riverfront Park, where they lay in shade under maples, shared a burrito the size of a man’s shoe and added salsa to their accumulated road grime and sweat.

“Leaning on Air” is a stand-alone companion to the award-winning “Sugar Birds” and picks up the stories of Celia Burke and Burnaby Hayes 12 years after the events in “Sugar Birds.”

“A surprise encounter reunites Celia and Burnaby,” she said.

Bostrom, a naturalist, photographer and poet, danced around the edges of fiction for many years while writing nonfiction for various publications.

“Sugar Birds” was first published by a hybrid press in 2021 and garnered numerous awards before being re-released by Tyndale in 2023.

“I published it at 67,” said Bostrom. “All these stories that have accumulated – experiences that travel with us – it’s never too late.”

When she picked up the threads of Burnaby and Celia’s story in “Leaning on Air,” she knew the theme would revolve around unmet expectations and loss – including the sorrow of pregnancy loss.

Bostrom drew the title from Burnaby’s aversion to physical touch.

She (Celia) pressed her forehead onto Burnaby’s shoulder, then withdrew an inch, leaning on air.

“Celia is passionate,” Bostrom explained. “Burnaby can’t be touched.”

His aversion to being touched would eventually hurt her. He’d told her that, as well.

“Nobody’s perfect, Burn,” she’d said. “Pretty sure I’ll hurt you, too, though I won’t mean to or want to. People do that, you know, autistic or not.”

The differences in the way they give and receive love are thrown into stark relief when, after two miscarriages, Celia loses a baby at 20 weeks. Unable to find comfort in her spouse, she flees to the Palouse and encounters the grandmother she’d never met, a boy rendered mute by trauma, and an elusive red-tailed hawk.

“The book takes people to this beautiful country and also addresses care for the land,” Bostrom said.

Her next book, “River Hoarder” will be released in May 2025. In it, she leaves the story of Burnaby and Celia behind – but the natural world is still a major character.

“It’s set on the Elwha River (Olympic Peninsula),” she said.

“Leaning on Air” is marketed as Book Club, Women’s Fiction and Literary Fiction, and while not specifically Christian fiction, it does contain spiritual concepts.

“The overarching theme is that life is for us – God is for us,” Bostrom said. “It’s about redemption and restoration. It’s for those who enjoy points of intersection between science and faith.”

“Leaning on Air” is available locally at Auntie’s, both Barnes and Noble locations, the Well-Read Moose in Coeur d’Alene, Book People in Moscow, Kindred & Co. in Post Falls and Tick Klock Drug in Colfax.

Though the novel deals with heavy issues, readers should take the author’s words to heart.

“Come what may, I believe in happy endings,” Bostrom said.

Contact Cindy Hval at