This memoir recounts a young girl’s experiences growing up in a West Virginia coal town in the 1950s and 1960s.
Calovini, the younger of two sisters, grew up in Northfork, W.V., a coal-mining town that’s often, as the author admits, confused with the city of Norfolk, Va. Her childhood reminiscences convey a scrappy sensibility: dealing with the ongoing mispronunciation of her first name, colorful interactions with various townsfolk, and loving and wry depictions of key relatives, including grandmother Remmie, great-grandmother Granny Nance, and her mother’s mysterious brother Junior, at one point wanted by the FBI. Since Calovini’s father ran a successful car dealership in town, she and her sister were known as “Luke’s daughters.” While she gives co-author credit to her sister, Jenna is the “I” voice in this memoir, and she shows talent as a gently sarcastic writer in the vein of Jean Shepherd or even Harper Lee. In the introduction, the framing is laid out: “Our goal has been a humorous, positive look at the West Virginia coalfields rather than a negative look at the people of Appalachia.” What this memoir lacks, however, is more psychological focus on the personal events recounted; instead, it consists of mostly episodic observations that, while at times amusing, often feel like a laundry list without critical perspective or context. For example, while her parents’ romantic back story is portrayed, and there are some hints of tensions related to her mother, there’s a marital bombshell tossed out at the end that might make readers question what had been going on before. Additionally, Jenna mentions that she ends up having a second husband named Jim, who may or may not be the high school boyfriend “Jimmy C” featured in the narrative. Still, it’s a credit to the authors that readers want to know more.
A coming-of-age memoir with charm and promise, though it’s oddly incomplete.