Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night

Written by Barbara J. Taylor
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

Barbara J. Taylor’s debut novel is the moving story of a family from Scranton, Pennsylvania at the turn of the 20th century. Scranton is located right in the heart of anthracite coal country and, at the time of this saga, was teeming with immigrants from Wales, Poland, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, and Italy, people who had come from the old country with the hope of making a better life in America. They landed in Scranton because coal companies were desperate to find enough people to mine the rich coal that heated homes and ran steel factories.

Scranton figures almost as one of the characters in this tale of Violet and Daisy, two sisters eleven months apart; their mother, Grace; and their father, Owen. In celebration of Daisy’s ninth birthday on the 4th of July, Owen brings home sparklers as a surprise for his daughters. However, the surprise turns deadly when Daisy’s new dress catches fire, resulting in the child’s death. This loss drives Grace almost insane and leads Owen down the road to perdition via whiskey. Little Violet is caught in the middle of the tragedy, the only one with Daisy when the accident occurred. Many in the small coal town point a finger at Violet, saying she somehow caused the fire because of jealousy. Soon, Violet begins to believe the rumors herself.

This story is at once poignant and hopeful, spiced up by such characters as Billy Sunday, the revivalist, and Grief, the specter who haunts Grace to the very edge of sanity. A rich debut.