Child of the Mountains
Marilyn Shank’s debut novel, Child of the Mountains, tells the story of Lydia Hawkins, an eleven-year-old girl growing up in the West Virginia of 1953. Told in first person, this book explores the relationship between place and character. Lydia’s mother, her wise Gran, and her little brother BJ, who has cystic fibrosis, make up a warm and loving family, grounding Lydia in the wisdom of the mountain people. Their pleasures are simple but plentiful, and, though they have little in the way of material goods, their lives are rich with the beauty surrounding them, as well as the deep love they share. But, as in all good stories, this idyllic situation cannot last. Gran and BJ die; Lydia’s mother is put in jail, and Lydia must move in with her Uncle William and Aunt Ethel Mae in a nearby coal town.
As Lydia adjusts to the mean girls at school and her new family, she never loses faith in her mother’s innocence. Finally, she finds a friend in her teacher, Mr. Hinkle, who helps Lydia find someone who can help.
I grew up in West Virginia. Shank does a fine job of capturing the cadences of the speech patterns of the Mountain State, though, as a reader, I felt the dialect was, perhaps, a little heavy-handed. The same can be said for some of the moral issues addressed in the book. But these are small quibbles; there is much here to admire and enjoy.