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- ISBN-13: 9781455551927
- ISBN-10: 1455551929
- Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
- Publish Date: January 2015
- Page Count: 480
- Dimensions: 9.11 x 6.96 x 1.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.51 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-11-24
- Reviewer: Staff
Scotton’s accomplished debut is the story of Kevin Gillooly, a 14-year-old boy who moves to coal country and learns about courage and violence, beauty and danger, from his wise, weathered grandfather and a best friend well versed in backwoods survival. Kevin’s mother brings him to her hometown of Medgar, Ky., after the death of Kevin’s three-year-old brother. Kevin’s grandfather Pops is a large-animal veterinarian and hires Kevin as an assistant. Pops also introduces him to books like Treasure Island and gives him time off to explore the surrounding mountains with his friend and confidant Buzzy Fink, who teaches Kevin how to use slugs to treat spider bites and other survival skills. Kevin sees land destroyed by mining, hears exploding mountaintops, and feels the fly-rock, while Buzzy witnesses the beating of gay hairdresser and anti-mining activist Paul Pierce. Both Kevin and Buzzy are tested during a camping trip with Pops, when an unknown assailant tracks them down and opens fire in the wilderness. Scotton’s cast of classic Appalachian characters also includes housekeeper Audy Rae, Cleo the high school football hero, the violent and inbred Budget family, and an array of old men shooting the breeze at Hivey’s. The coming-of-age story is enriched by depictions of the earth’s healing and redemptive power. Neither the first portrait of mining country nor the most original, Scotton’s novel nonetheless makes for compelling reading when the action grows intense—managing, like the landscape it describes, to be simultaneously frightening and beautiful. (Jan.)
A summer on the homestead
Kevin Gillooly, the teenage protagonist of Christopher Scotton’s debut novel, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, returns with his mother to her Eastern Kentucky hometown of Medgar after the horrific accidental death of his 3-year-old brother. Kevin’s father hopes a summer under the care of Pops, the family’s cantankerous patriarch and the town veterinarian, will restore the devastated Anne. For Kevin, his time in Medgar is not a retreat, but an introduction to the thorny issues of adulthood, as well as the healing power of nature, thanks to his friendship with Buzzy Fink, a local boy who instructs Kevin in the ways of wilderness.
The town knew better days when the nearby coal mines were productive. Now people are selling off their ancestral lands for the latest in coal extraction: mountaintop removal, which destroys the landscape. In a place with more poverty than opportunity, the choice to sell is a tempting one. A small group of townspeople oppose the powerful mining interests, including Pops. As Kevin accompanies Pops on his veterinary rounds into the hills and hollows, he begins to see what happens when a community loses its connection to its history—a connection Kevin has just discovered for himself, thanks to his time on the family homestead.
Among the novel’s many joys are its characters, which add humor, drama and heartbreak to this layered story. Though a few are just this side of stereotypical (the gay hairdresser, the sassy housekeeper, the repugnant mine company boss), they illustrate the way years of common experience and friendship can be tested by change and hardship. This affecting coming-of-age story faithfully portrays environmental concerns alongside rich family histories.