The tragic loss of a small child drives Annie into herself. Her husband can do nothing to console her, but readily points the finger at their surviving son, Kevin, who is smothered by guilt, but unlike his mother is aware of the need to move on. The decision is made for mother and son to leave Indiana for Annie’s family homestead in the Appalachian mountains, where readers find out that this was not the first premature or violent death visited upon the Peebles bloodline; Annie’s mother died as a complication of her birth, while her grandfather was targeted as an early activist for miner’s rights. When Annie returns to her father’s home, he too has known grief and is ready to give his daughter and grandson the space to heal.
Pops Peebles has commanded a great deal of respect amongst the inhabitants of fictional Medgar, Kentucky. He entertains his closest friends most every night with front porch talk and colorful stories, always accompanied by glasses of sour mash in engraved crystal. Like his father, who stood up for safe working conditions for his fellow miners, Pops is also concerned with fighting for what he thinks is best for his community that has slowly degraded due to surface mining practices.
Medgar was once thriving and proud, but in 1985, its beauty has been scarred, its waters polluted, and its economy has slowly trickled to almost nothing. Decline and loss are a painful terrain from which The Secret Wisdom of the Earth‘s youngest characters develop; some who triumph and others only add to the devastation. Kevin, who for most of the book holds back on revealing the circumstances of his brother’s death, finds himself with open-ended days to wander the forest around his grandfather’s home. There he meets Buzzy, a local boy near his own age, and they spend their days exploring the wilderness, navigating bullies, and admiring the opposite sex. The two become inseparable until another tragedy strikes, and the boys are forced to weigh allegiances over conscience.
Whether you’re a fan of regional stories, have an interest in mountaintop removal, or just appreciate a great coming-of-age tale stocked with colorful characters, I encourage you give this first literary effort by Christopher Scotton a top place on your reading list.
Formats Available: Book, eBook
Reviewed by Natalie, Crescent Hill