On their Appalachian homestead, an unusual family struggles with the wilderness, society, and each other.
Lily and Karen are a couple living near the West Virginia border on the Women’s Land Trust. When their son, Perley, is born, they know they’ll be forced to move within five years, as the land is designated as women-only. To their surprise, Helen, a Seattle transplant who lives in a camper on 20 acres of land nearby since being abandoned by her boyfriend, invites them to build a home with her; the three women, plus baby Perley, live together as a motley, but largely content, family. Lily, Karen, and Helen approach their homesteading life with varying degrees of commitment and dogmatism. Each week they play Survival Dice to determine whether they’ll get food from the grocery store (Lily’s preference) or live only off what the land can provide (Karen’s and Helen’s). As Perley grows up, he becomes accustomed to foraging for acorns, shoveling piles of “humanure,” and sharing his home with tenacious black rat snakes. However, when Perley decides at age 7 that he wants to attend school, the women’s unconventional lifestyle is suddenly on display, and when an accident draws the attention of Children’s Services, the family is threatened by forces bigger than any they’ve faced before. Ffitch (Valparaiso, Round the Horn, 2014), who has a long track record as an environmental activist, has crafted a story that is unabashedly political. But what could have been a didactic or strident novel is rendered, through its multiple first-person perspectives, with wit and nuance. And Ffitch has surely created one of the best child narrators in recent memory with the charming Perley.
A cleareyed, largehearted take on the social protest novel.