I loved this book. I sank into it immediately, like an overstuffed couch, and only came out for chores. It’s a beautiful, gentle story of strength despite injustice with a good dose of picturesque Appalachian culture. A wonderful combination.
Eleven-year-old Lydia finds herself unexpectedly living with her Aunt Ethel Mae and Uncle William after a series of tragic circumstances, which are explained through back story during the first several chapters. The plot looks back about as often as it looks forward, but it works. It lets us into Lydia’s poor but idyllic childhood living with her gran, her mother, and her brother, BJ. Well, perhaps not so idyllic. Daddy was mean and drunk as often as he was wonderful, and BJ was born with cystic fibrosis. But it was a growing up filled with love, with wisdom, and with a gentle mountain faith. Then Daddy died in a construction accident, Gran died of old age, BJ died of his disease, and Mama was jailed—unjustly—for killing him.
Aunt Ethel Mae and Uncle William are good people. Ethel Mae talks too much, puts on airs, and complains of headaches. Uncle William is the strong, stern, silent type. But they’re solid, they love Lydia, and they want to help her put the tragedies behind her. So Lydia is afraid to tell them when her kindly teacher and his fiancé offer to help Mama get a new trial.
This one is just full up with personality. Lydia has a sweetness to her as fresh and pure as mountain air. The lessons she learns at the hand of Gran and her mother are exquisitely told: lessons about generosity, compassion, honesty, and faith. The love these two hill women share is enough to counter any adversity and to shore a young girl up with the strength to face whatever life throws at her.
“Life is not supposed to be about what we do and how long we live to do it,” Lydia is told. “Life is about who we be. We take what we learn here about being, right up to Heaven.” And in the course of the story, Lydia comes to learn exactly who she is. “I figured something out. Them mountains is always and forever inside me, making me who I be. My blood is like a river running through those mountains…I felt the mountains filling up all the empty places inside me…And when I look to them hills I always carry deep inside, I felt their strength. And I felt God, who made those hills, inside of me, too. Maybe the truth of who I am really had set me free after all.”
Child of the Mountains is chocked full of grace and goodness, and the telling is beautiful enough to satisfy even a hard core imagery junkie like myself. I highly recommend this one for kids ten and older, but especially for those adults like me whose soul needs to occasionally be filled with a good dose of the mountains.