As a child, Emma Malloy left isolated Coal River, Pennsylvania, vowing never to return. Read more...
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As a child, Emma Malloy left isolated Coal River, Pennsylvania, vowing never to return. Now, orphaned and penniless at nineteen, she accepts a train ticket from her aunt and uncle and travels back to the rough-hewn community. Treated like a servant by her relatives, Emma works for free in the company store. There, miners and their impoverished families must pay inflated prices for food, clothing, and tools, while those who owe money are turned away to starve.
Most heartrending of all are the breaker boys Emma sees around the village--young children who toil all day sorting coal amid treacherous machinery. Their soot-stained faces remind Emma of the little brother she lost long ago, and she begins leaving stolen food on families' doorsteps, and marking the miners' bills as paid.
Though Emma's actions draw ire from the mine owner and police captain, they lead to an alliance with a charismatic miner who offers to help her expose the truth. And as the lines blur between what is legal and what is just, Emma must risk everything to follow her conscience.
An emotional, compelling novel that rings with authenticity--Coal River is a deft and honest portrait of resilience in the face of hardship, and of the simple acts of courage that can change everything.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-11-23
- Reviewer: Staff
In 1912, 19-year-old Emma Malloy is left without resources after the death of her parents. She returns to the place of her childhood nightmare: Coal River, Pa., a dank mining town where her brother died tragically young. Emma is forced to live with her abusive aunt and uncle, and she quickly realizes that young "breaker boys" are illegally working in the mines, suffering injuries and death, while the mine owner rakes in the profit. Unwilling to stand by silently while more mining families suffer, Emma secretly joins forces with a young miner who hopes to instigate a strike. Conflict between the workers and their corrupt management bring the town to its kneesand Emma's courageous plan brings the world to their doorstep. Wiseman (What She Left Behind) offers heartbreaking and historically accurate depictions of the dangerous mines, the hopeless workers, and their improbable fight for justice. The richly developed coal town acts as a separate, complex character; readers will want to look away even as they're drawn into a powerful quest for purpose and redemption. The improbable ending, in which every plot strand is neatly tied up, undercuts the realism of the otherwise powerful story. (Dec.)