Book Review: Child of the Mountains
Making do is nothing new to Lydia Hawkins. She, her mother and her grandmother make do on little income and a lot of love as they care for Lydia’s little brother BJ. BJ has cystic fibrosis, a fact that Lydia accepts as part of life’s routine. She does her part to help care for her little brother, playing with him and marveling at the little boy’s swift intelligence.
Life is not easy. Granny’s cabin is small and primitive but Lydia seems to barely notice. She is focused on helping her little brother get better. When the local doctor recommends a study being conducted at a large hospital in Ohio, Lydia is apprehensive. She agrees with her mother, though. If it will help BJ, then they need to find a way to make it happen.
In the end the decision to enter her brother into the study proves to be the undoing of them all. When her mother is charged with causing the death of BJ, Lydia must go to live with her childless aunt and uncle in a coal camp, leaving all that she loves and knows behind. Her in this new place Lydia learns to negotiate the fragile space around her sickly aunt, to tread softly around her brooding uncle, and to never, ever mention her mother’s name. It’s not easy to find friends, either, and Lydia faces ridicule from classmates and whispers about her imprisoned mother.
None of it diminishes Lydia’s spirit and nothing undermines her determination to clear her mother’s name. As she struggles to maintain her sense of self and love for her mother, Lydia discovers a secret that rocks her understanding of her past and her family.
Author Marilyn Sue Shank grew up in West Virginia, and her childhood memories and family stories created the backdrop for her book. Her education in learning disabilities and behavior disorders provided background knowledge for the story of BJ, and imbues her book with a sensitive, understanding appreciation of the struggles of low-income families who must care for a child with special needs. What comes through clearly is the love and commitment of Lydia’s family, and the uncomplicated acceptance of their responsibility to do whatever they can for BJ right up to the end of his life.
Written in Lydia’s voice and Appalachian dialect, Child of the Mountains is a proud yet humble testament to mountain people and the mountain way of life. Folk cures, old songs, simple foods, and traditional life weave in and through Lydia’s narration of her life in a tiny West Virginia community. Hard times walk hand in hand with laughter and sadness, and Lydia journals her way along the rocky path to young adulthood with humor, uncanny insight, and a faith rooted in her family and the hills of her home.
Lydia’s granny once told her, “We can’t let our sad rob us of our joy.” While Lydia suffers through the loss of those she loves and separation from her beloved home, she never bogs down in self-pity. She struggles on, finding hope in the new friends she finds along the way and a deeper conviction that somehow she will get her mother out of prison. Through it all her voice retains joy and confidence in who she is: Lydia Jane Hawkins, a child of the mountains.
Child of the Mountains
by Marilyn Sue Shank
Delacorte Press, 2012
Coal mining, World War II, ghosts and getting in trouble: it was a fine day for storytelling to eighth grade students today.The middle school students