Diary entries tell child's heartfelt storyIt’s often hard to read a book written in regional dialect. But this isn’t the case in “Child of the Mountains,” by Marilyn Sue Shank. Instead, the voice pulls readers into the story.
By: Jean Patrick, Republic Book Columnist
It’s often hard to read a book written in regional dialect. But this isn’t the case in “Child of the Mountains,” by Marilyn Sue Shank. Instead, the voice pulls readers into the story.
“My mama’s in jail,” writes 11-year-old Lydia Hawkins of Paradise, W.Va. “It ain’t right … Them folks that put her there just don’t understand our family.”
Lydia’s diary entries from 1953 are heavy with memories of faith-filled Gran and Mama, her violent Daddy (now dead) and her brilliant little brother BJ, who suffered from cystic fibrosis and was questionably treated at a research hospital in Ohio.
Lydia interweaves these memories with her current story. She’s living with her aunt and uncle in Confidence, W.Va., while her mother is in jail. However, she feels anything but confident, as she is teased by her classmates for being the daughter of a “child-murderer.”
Lydia believes it is her fault that her mother is in jail. But her teacher and his fiancée (a lawyer) help bring the case back to court. Meanwhile, Lydia finds the courage to speak.
Author Marilyn Sue Shank takes her time in revealing the core of Lydia’s guilt, the accused crime of her mother and a bombshell of a family secret. With unanswered questions, the pull on the reader is strong.
The abundance of death and grief could cause “Child of the Mountains” to be a total downer of a book. However, Shank allows the words of Gran to buoy the story: “We can’t let our sad rob us of our joy.” Shank also allows Lydia’s faith to be an integral part of the story through prayers, hymns, observations and questions.
In this gentle yet powerful book, Shank also approaches many other major topics, including racism, violence, adoption, the legal system and even career choices for women.
But at its core, “Child of the Mountains” is the story of a resilient girl who learns to live by the words of her mother: “Never forget who you be.”
Child of the Mountains. By Marilyn Sue Shank. Delacorte Press, 2012. 272 pp.