This coming-of-age story is well-rooted in nature, community, and music.


Song of Moving Water

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.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0986383519

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Kakapo Press

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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