A debut novel about the trials and tribulations of a gifted, sensitive boy growing up in the bleak, unforgiving environment of the Virginia Mountains.
Samuel, or “Sammy,” is a very kind, sensitive boy growing up near Oreville, Virginia, in the middle of the 20th century. His family is poor, and a slew of troubled characters affect his life, including his cruel, hateful grandfather Luke and his alcoholic, racist uncle Earl. Despite the family’s difficult circumstances, Sammy is a sympathetic, understanding child who’s better able to recognize peoples’ feelings and desires than most adults in his world. Holmes’ novel chronicles the story of Sammy growing up and explores his quest to win affection and attention from people who are supposed to love him—particularly his dad, Red, who’s especially put off by the odd, artistic little boy. It also relates the story of the boy’s eventual bonding with his maternal and paternal grandmothers, who recognize that there’s “something more than special about him, way, way more than special” and help him see that he has his own worth, as well as a future. By the end of the book, Sammy is finally able to physically escape Virginia and attend art school in New York City, but the author leaves readers questioning whether he can ever really transcend the terrible, haunting trauma of his past. Ultimately, Holmes creates a very likable character in Sammy, who’s tender and compassionate to everyone in the world around him. He also crafts vivid, lifelike villains who are easy to hate but also recognizable as humans with flaws. However, despite the plethora of well-developed characters, the book suffers from being overwhelmingly depressing. In the end, the story simply feels like a catalog of terrible things that happen to a kind, young man throughout his life, rather than one with logical twists and turns, which makes for a disheartening read.
A bleak book with a sympathetic protagonist.