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*Child of the Mountains* by Marilyn Sue Shank - middle grades book review
Child of the Mountains
by Marilyn Sue Shank
Ages 9+ 272 pages Delacorte April 2012 Hardcover    

Marilyn Sue Shank’s first novel, Child of the Mountains, is an outstanding work of historical fiction. The story begins as Lydia is living with her aunt and uncle in a coal-mining town in West Virginia. Her brother and grandmother have recently died; her mother is in jail.

The story flows seamlessly from her present life into her memories of her family—especially her grandmother and brother. Lydia’s grandmother lived with them ever since her father died; she was a strong woman of faith and a stronghold in the family.

Lydia’s younger brother, BJ, was equally remarkable. Born with cystic fibrosis, BJ was a brilliant child who could talk and read at an extraordinarily early age. Much of his short life was spent in a hospital as part of a medical study; this was the only way her family could afford his health care.

At the beginning, we never really know why Lydia’s mother is in jail. Her memories of her mother depict her as a kind, caring person. As a result, the revelation of her mother’s conviction is heartbreaking. This climax occurs in the middle of the book, at which point the story is told only about Lydia’s present.

A caring teacher recognizes Lydia’s pain and with the help of his fiancé, an attorney, works with her family to try to bring her mother home. In the midst of this turning point, Lydia discovers a secret involving her family, one which changes Lydia’s understanding of her family relationships forever: a secret she must keep.

All the major characters in this story are exceptionally well-developed, capturing the reader’s heart from the beginning. Lydia speaks in an Appalachian dialect which is so well done that once the reader becomes accustomed to her voice, it never appears ignorant but becomes an essential part of both the setting and character.

Lydia’s family and fundamental beliefs are Christian, so well woven into their lives that there is no preaching, simply the reality of faith as an integral part of their lives. Readers will finish this book thoroughly satisfied with a well-told tale they will not soon forget. Highly recommended.
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  Kristine Wildner/2012 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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