Thursday, March 3, 2016

Coal River by Ellen Marie Wiseman

In this vibrant new historical novel, the acclaimed author of The Plum Tree and What She Left Behind explores one young woman's determination to put an end to child labor in a Pennsylvania mining town. 

As a child, Emma Malloy left isolated Coal River, Pennsylvania, vowing never to return. Now, orphaned and penniless at nineteen, she accepts a train ticket from her aunt and uncle and travels back to the rough-hewn community. Treated like a servant by her relatives, Emma works for free in the company store. There, miners and their impoverished families must pay inflated prices for food, clothing, and tools, while those who owe money are turned away to starve. Most heartrending of all are the breaker boys Emma sees around the village--young children who toil all day sorting coal amid treacherous machinery. Their soot-stained faces remind Emma of the little brother she lost long ago, and she begins leaving stolen food on families' doorsteps, and marking the miners' bills as paid. 

Though Emma's actions draw ire from the mine owner and police captain, they lead to an alliance with a charismatic miner who offers to help her expose the truth. And as the lines blur between what is legal and what is just, Emma must risk everything to follow her conscience. 

An emotional, compelling novel that rings with authenticity--Coal River is a deft and honest portrait of resilience in the face of hardship, and of the simple acts of courage that can change everything.

From first page to last, I was kept thoroughly on edge by this captivating novel about child labor in Pennsylvania. After the death of her parents, Emma finds alone and without resources. She is compelled to travel back to Coal River, Pennsylvania to live with her aunt and uncle who, like the rest of the town, earn a living from the local coal mine. Immediately, her cold and unloving relatives put her to work around the house and the company store which they run on behalf of the coal mine owner. While the coal mine owners and her uncle get rich off the backs of the impoverished miners, Emma discovers "the breaker boys", young lands who are forced to work, some as young as 6 years old, in a most dangerous part of the mine. Emma is determined to fight for the lives of these boys and their extremely poor and abused families of Coal River. What transpires is a completely engrossing story with plenty of twists and turns. 

I adore books like this - that take a real human situation and show us all how the wrongs of the past were made right. Of course, there is a very strong determined heroine, and a very good man at the heart of the story. The two work together to fight for the coal miners and their families. I have to say that all the other characters in the story were intriguing because of their sometimes severe flaws, cruel intentions, and abuse. It kept me on edge throughout the story, and I loved that! The story and characters are ever evolving, capturing the reader's interest, while educating on the harsh realities and historical details of the not so distant past. 

The hauntingly beautiful cover drew me in, but the beautifully lush story was the true gem! This is a novel that will stay with you long after you close the book and put it away. 

Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.