In Strickland County, coal is king, opiate abuse is rampant, and a wide valley separates those who have power from those who do not.
Eighteen-year-old Harlowe is making plans for a life outside of Strickland when violence arrives on his doorstep, leaving behind the dead body of his older brother, Nate. The murder and its implications decimate Harlowe’s family, sending his mother back into the grip of addiction and pulling his father deeper into the mines. Harlowe becomes desperate for answers, chasing fragmented clues and secrets that Nate left behind. His feverish obsession with uncovering the truth can only be matched by his fiery desire for Tennessee, a beautiful girl who also knows sadness and who arrives in his life just as Nate is taken from it. The portrait of life in fictional Strickland, with its poverty, corruption, and pollution, is grim but not far-fetched. Glimmers of hope exist in characters’ deep connections to the land and tight bonds with those they trust, but readers will wonder if Harlowe can truly flourish if he stays in the home he’s always known. Characters are assumed white; the portrayal of self-reliant and isolated Appalachian culture is unmistakable; gender roles are traditional and rigid. Though the storyline occasionally meanders, it is driven by mystery and peppered with themes relevant to young readers such as identity, betrayal, and romance.
A bleak yet compelling portrayal of Appalachian mountain life. (Fiction. 14-18)