It's been five years since 12-year-old Curley's mother and little brother drowned when a coal mine slurry pond broke its banks and swallowed them and seven years since his father died in a mining accident.
Now Curley, his best friend, Jules, and the mine owner's son, JD, join together to prevent the coal company from clear-cutting and surface-mining the mountain that they love. The catch: Curley and his grandfather subsist on cash from an informal settlement with the mine company, which will end if Curley continues his protest. Winning means moving away. Unfortunately, the premise is the book’s fatal flaw. It is wildly unlikely that any coal company in existence would settle a clear-cut wrongful-death claim with just a handshake, and moreover, Curley would automatically receive social security and worker’s compensation benefits due to his father's death, which undermines the central plot. Knight ably navigates middle school friendships but in demonstrating Curley’s and his grandfather's love of language sometimes carries cleverness too far: Curley uses every one of his "words of the week," in alphabetical order, to denounce the coal company in a video. Appalachian tropes abound, and the local opposition to Big Coal also strains credulity—in a part of the country where good jobs are scarcer than scenery, not everyone can afford to be an environmentalist.
A likable protagonist and good writing can't overcome the novel's problems. (Fiction. 8-12)