In Morgan’s strangely hypnotic debut novel, a poor mountain girl tries to live her life on her own terms.
Honey Giles was born on the top of a mountain outside the small town of Enna Rush, and this novel tells her story from the ages of roughly 6 to 16. Although the story never clearly establishes its year and locale, it appears to take place in late-1960s Appalachia, although Honey and her family live a decidedly pre-World War II lifestyle. She’s a narrator with more verbal and orthographic tics than you can shake a stick at, including mountain grammar (“Granny enters her quilt in that quiltin’ contest and don’t she always get herself one a them Blue Ribbons.”), seemingly random capitalization and a compulsion to spell long words on the fly (C-O-N-T-R-I-T-E….This one’s an Adjective.” ). The sprawling novel’s accumulation of minutiae tends to obscure its darker moments, during which Honey is socially ostracized, bullied, nearly raped (twice) and, later, nearly murdered. However, she has an entertaining, sharp mind and a determination to stick to her goals, and her more enlightened teachers parlay her spelling compulsion into a shot at the statewide spelling bee championship, a development that drives much of the story. Along the way, Honey is prone to interminable tangents (including recipes and mountain lore) and is often clueless about plot twists that many readers will likely see coming. That said, the novel is less about plot than character, and although some readers may find Honey’s first-person dialect irritating at first, many will come to find it oddly engaging.
A charming, unique example of Southern historical fiction.