by Natalie S. Harnett
All this fascinated me, but it felt like merely background to a story that was really about the decay of Brigid's family. The bitterness they all held inside, the slow reveal of dark memories and past deeds that haunted people's lives. Brigid's mother was constantly full of anger and hurt from what seemed to her a childhood betrayal- having been put in an orphanage by her stepmother. Her father is nearly always out of work, brought down by a mining accident which took his brother's life and left him with a disabling injury. They drift from place to place, living with relatives and trying to get their own place but always struggling. Eventually the father gets a decent job and the mother finds some long-lost relatives, but neither of them really find the healing or security they are looking for. Things are hard for Brigid as well, who nearly looses her best friend and end up living alone with her grandmother who has a sharp tongue and constant criticism.
Honestly I found it hard to care for all these characters even though they suffered so much. They were insulting each other so continually it was hard to read, especially when I didn't understand at first why they all despised each other so. The first part of the story was more interesting to me, as I read about Brigid's friendships, struggles with her family, explorations into abandoned mine shafts dared by other kids. There's also an element of mysticism, stories of a family curse and healing powers. But the storyline seemed to shift into being all about her mother's pain, this bitter woman trying to overcome a lifetime of feeling rejected. The ending has some closure and a bright outlook for Brigid, but it was sad that her family had dissolved so much, even though she repaired some friendships and became close to her grandmother after all.
I received an ARC copy of this book from the publisher. I was very interested to read it because I have visited parts of coal country in PA, looked for anthracite fossils near abandoned mine sites, drove through the ghost town of Centralia. There's more information about the mine fire at Centralia here. Reading about the experience of a family living through those events was something I looked forward to. There's more about the coal mine fires on the author's website as well.
Rating: 2/5 320 pages, 2014
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