The Road to Bittersweet

Written by Donna Everhart
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

The Road to Bittersweet is an adventure story and coming-of-age story wrapped into one satisfying package.

In 1940, Wallis Ann Stamper and her family have a simple life in the hills of South Carolina. Wallis Ann adores her little brother, Seph, and her sister, Laci, is a beautiful musical savant, having never spoken a word but expresses herself in the only way she knows how: through her fiddle. Times are hard in Appalachia, but the family gets by, until the fateful day when the river bursts. The family is forced to flee for their survival, but when they get separated, Wallis Ann channels her inner Huckleberry Finn, using her will and her wiles to survive while never giving up the search for her family.

When the family reunites, they must eke out a living, as they are unable to return to their homestead. A fortuitous meeting gives the musical family a chance to join the traveling circus, though not everyone in the family is happy with this change in circumstance, particularly as they are mourning the loss of one of their own. However, the circus gives them shelter, food, money and stability. When Laci disappears with the boy that Wallis Ann has begun to care for, the family is fractured yet again, leaving Wallis Ann to face some difficult truths.

The book is compelling from start to finish. Donna Everhart skillfully evokes a harsh landscape and harsh times, squarely placing the reader in Appalachia right along with the family. Wallis Ann’s complicated relationship with her sister is well explored and serves as a catalyst for her growth into a mature young woman.

The book is Southern fiction at its finest and will likely appeal to those who like books with a mix of heart and adventure.