Hearts of Stone

Written by Kathleen Ernst
Review by Mike Ashworth

Fifteen-year-old Hannah finds herself the head of her family when her Cumberland Mountain home is torn asunder by the ravages of the Civil War. Her best friend and neighbor Ben’s family is Confederate, while Hannah’s father becomes an early casualty on the Union side. When bushwhackers threaten and their mother dies, Hannah makes the monumental decision to keep her family together by walking to a Nashville aunt’s home – a walk that takes them through the very heart of the war.

On the way they face dangers both natural and man-made, and continued animosity from Ben’s family. But Hannah sings to her twin sisters even when “worn to a nub.” They find kindness from both a former slave woman and Confederate gun runner. Cruelty comes by way of a desperate Union soldier.

When they finally reach a crowded-with-refugees Nashville, they spend their first night huddled together in a coil of rope at the docks. A Union surgeon offers help at a terrible price, and an uneasy truce begins with neighbor Ben and his sister. Although she feels like “someone had taken a flax comb to my heart,” Hannah finds strength in the healing power of music, story, and family.

Like an old-time ballad, Hearts of Stone transports readers into a lyrical, essential world brimming with life and spirit. It succeeds in that rarest of objectives – to both wrench and warm the heart. Highly recommended. Age 12 and up.