One day when Marilyn Sue Shank was at her computer preparing
lessons for her students she heard a girl's voice in her head saying
in a West Virginia accent, "My mama's in jail. It ain't right."
Fortunately that persistent voice wouldn't let itself be drowned out
by work. Those sentences became the opening of her poignant and
lyrical Child of the Mountains.
At eleven, Lydia is experiencing more heartache than many
adults. Her beloved little brother, BJ, has died after a long
struggle with cystic fibrosis. (In 1953 treatment for this chronic
disease was not well advanced.). Her grandmother had passed on a
couple of years earlier. Her mother is in jail, serving time for her
brother's death. The aunt and uncle she has moved in with seem
distant and aloof. Wanting her to put the past behind her, they won't
let her talk about or communicate with her mother.
When Lydia must stay after school four days for fighting with a
mean girl, her teacher, confident that she is college material, hands
her want ads and tells her to discover her dream job. What she
confides in him, however, is her heartfelt dream: to get her mother
out of jail. It turns out that his fiancée is a lawyer, interested in
the case and willing to do an appeal pro bono. Information Lydia has
may hold the key to an acquittal. Then right before the retrial she
stumbles across some disturbing information. The woman she would move
heaven and Earth to be with might not be her birth mother after all.
The narrative takes the form of Lydia's journal. In each
chapter she skilfully interweaves details of life with her aunt and
uncle with memories of her earlier life. These tender memories
touchingly build up to the final act of love she and her mother do for
BJ, an act of heroism that is interpreted by the law as negligence and
I thought very deliberately about characterizing this book as
YA. The rule of thumb is kids want to read about older kids. I
couldn't, however, see fifth graders handling the subject matter. I
don't mean illigitimacy. Any child with access to afternoon tv knows
that not all babies are conceived in wedlock. I mean the correctness
of smuggling a dying child out of a hospital so that his last minutes
on earth are with his family at home, not in a sterile institution.
That had me in tears. And I'm an adult.
On a personal note, I have just voted for myself for 3 more years on
RSU 26 Board of Directors. I admit I like to vote for me. I love
being a public servant.
A great big shout out goes out to all the voters who weighed in after
careful consideration of the issues.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod