In this novel set in 1975, a young woman moves back to her Appalachian home and tries to stop the building of a dam.
Grace Dabney McAuley, 17, is about to finish high school when she learns she inherited her father’s farm in Jack Creek, Virginia, where she’d grown up, after he died seven years ago. Aunt Ruby has been living there, but she couldn’t manage the place after breaking her leg. When Grace arrives, she halts an estate sale—arranged by her stepfather—already in progress and agrees to stay on, finish high school by mail, and take care of Ruby and the farm, with all its chores. Her mother says she’s “being foolish, absolutely daft,” but Grace decides to trust her intuition. She learns that a hydroelectric dam project threatens to flood the sparsely populated and hard-to-reach mountain valley; it would also flood her father’s grave. Getting back in touch with her roots, especially mountain music, and meeting Sam Bennett—an older Quaker boy looking for endangered riverine species—inspires her to organize the Jack Creek residents, fight the dam, and effectively describe the valley’s beauty in song. Schmidt (Salt Runs in My Blood, 2015, etc.) evokes great affection for the people, customs, music, and arts of Appalachia. Though this portrait of Appalachia could slide into sentimentality, Schmidt also acknowledges the region’s hardships, lack of education, and racism. Bringing a Melungeon friend to a fiddlers’ convention, Grace finds and tears down “a hand-lettered paper sign” on the shower house reading “Whites Only.” Grace’s examination of both sides of her family—Appalachian and Richmond’s high society—is well-handled, as is her growing interest in Quaker spirituality. Schmidt also does a nice job of tying Grace’s romantic, environmental, and religious searchings into her feelings about her father’s death and fears of abandonment. Despite dramatic events and touches of humor, the book can become somewhat earnest and didactic, undercutting its emotion.
This coming-of-age story is well-rooted in nature, community, and music.