First of all, let me say I loved this book. I was called away from it after reading only a dozen pages, and Livy Two’s distinctive voice had already found its way into my mind. When I stepped outside, I saw the mountains that I, like Livy Two, call home, half-expecting to see one of the novel’s colorful characters step out of the woods behind my house.
I suppose that my experience reading this book is a little different from that of most readers, as I’ve lived most of my life in the same mountains as Livy Two. We’ve walked the same streets, breathed in the same mountain air. And Kerry Madden captured it perfectly.
Livy Two Weems is a twelve-year-old girl growing up dirt poor in a family with nine kids in the Western North Carolina mountains in the 1960s. Those mountains are her home, but she’s always wanted to see beyond them–that’s why she loves the lending library truck that comes to Maggie Valley so much. Livy Two knows the magic that books can have, taking us out of our everyday lives and off to far away places. Livy Two also has a passion for music, making up her songs about her life in the holler and strumming her guitar.
Money’s always been tight, but now life is getting even harder for the Weems family. Livy Two wants to help, but she’s not sure she knows how. Even when a terrible tragedy strikes her family, though, Livy Two has to try and stay strong, and keep singing her songs.
I loved this book. GENTLE’S HOLLER is a beautiful, hopeful, moving story that any reader will love. Starting with Livy Two, it’s full of strong, three-dimensional characters. Every one of them stands out in my mind–no easy task when just the family has twelve people (and one heroic daschund) in it. Grandma Horace with her collection of glass eyes, Louise with her paintings, Daddy with his roasted peanuts and dreams for writing a big banjo hit. Every one the characters is amazing. Livy Two’s voice is especially fresh and original and real.
Creating brilliant characters is not Kerry Madden’s only strength; the setting of the story is just as masterfully described as the characters. The mountains in the 1960s seemed just as real to me, as I read this, as those present-day hills outside my door.
Kerry Madden is an amazingly talented writer. I’m just glad there’s a sequel to GENTLE’S HOLLER, and I won’t be wasting any time before picking it up!