The Wiregrass

Written by Pam Webber
Review by Steve Shaw

A sweltering, Southern small town summer is the backdrop for a tale that is as rich and dense as the kudzu and wiregrass that encroach on the town. Ostensibly a mystery (that seems to creep up as an afterthought towards the end) that gets unravelled by the main young characters, we instead find a tapestry of Southern family life and small town mystique taking center stage for the majority of the story.

The Vietnam War is represented by Fort Rucker, and plays an important part in understanding the children as well as the town itself. Helicopters continually fly overhead as a reminder that the full transport planes will often return with many empty seats. We find the typical town busybody, drunks, the church (full of grace), sheriff and judge. The main characters, the barely teenage ‘cussins’ (both vernacular of ‘cousins’ and a statement of their often loose vocabulary), meet every summer and stay with a favorite aunt and uncle, while raising a moderate amount of mischief at night.

The story evolves around a growing sense that their pranks have gone too far, but as they fear the police are circling in on them, the reality is much darker. Like a thundercloud on a summer afternoon, the circumstances of a handsome new boy promise to unfold in a way no one was prepared for.

A beautifully told tale told from the point of view of the children – most grownups drift on the periphery. Well-written and fun to read, suitable for middle readers and up.