How do you describe a book which creates a world then invites you to vicariously live beside the characters and experience their joys and sorrows, their hopes and dreams, their trials and triumphs? The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is that book and this is my adventure as I read it.
I entered the Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky with Kevin Gillooly and his mother who were both suffering the after effects of the tragic death of three year old Josh. When life is dealt a catastrophic event, the only place to go for healing is home, so Anna moves home to her Dad’s house with her remaining son. Not that Annie is aware of her environment, she goes through her days in a zombie-like trance leaving her father to deal with his guilt ridden grandson. Pops introduces Kevin to life in the small town of Medgar, a coal mining community experiencing the encroachment of a mega business run by William Beecher Boyd, a local man originally from Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, his success is destroying their homestead by blowing the tops off the mountains to reach the coal buried deep inside. The resulting sludge pollutes the lakes and fills the valleys with debris, yet the company pay checks sustains the life of the miners, so the backlash remains at a stand still until local hair salon owner, Paul Pierce, starts fighting back (with disastrous results). Pops owns a piece of the beautiful countryside and vows to keep it pristine as long as he lives. He refuses to sell at any price, and takes Kevin out on a camping trip so he, too, can witness the splendor and heritage of his grand dad’s youth. Jukes is where Pop’s dear wife Sarah is buried, next to the other Peebles who have resided on the property throughout the years. Along with Kevin comes Buzzy Fink, a friend from proud poor family stock. Whereas Kevin knows he will one day outgrow small town life, go to college, and begin a career, Buzzy is destined to remain in Medgar working at menial jobs to make ends meet. However, that is the future, this is the summer for fourteen year old boys to explore their world and have fun being energetic and wild. Neither realizes that they will both witness and experience a series of events which will force them to make tough decisions requiring a courage and wisdom well beyond their tender years.
What makes this book a five star wonder for first time author Christopher Scotton, is not just the idyllic plot, but the incredible characterizations. The individuals living in the town come alive so that as Kevin gets to know them, so does the reader. Then there is Pops — What an incredible man, someone we would all like to claim as a grandfather. He relates his wisdom of life and the world to Kevin, using the natural beauty of the region to help his grandson heal from the ache he carries within his heart. We, too, are touched as we experience the calamities the boys and Pops face during that fateful summer.
It’s a tale full of complexities, but simply told. A journey the reader travels with our young heroes, one which is well worth the trip. So grab your imaginary knapsack, fill it with supplies, and come along for the ride as we climb through the town and to the peak of the book, then down again, filled with the wisdom that can only be found through nature, the secret wisdom of the earth.
A special thank you to Netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for graciously allowing me to download this ARC in exchange for an honest review.