Review: The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

The Secret Wisdom of the EarthThe Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

480 pages

Published: January 2015

I received this from Goodsreads Firstreads

Timely and timeless, this is a dramatic and deeply moving novel about an act of violence in a small, Southern town and the repercussions that will forever change a young man’s view of human cruelty and compassion.

After seeing the death of his younger brother in a terrible home accident, fourteen-year-old Kevin and his grieving mother are sent for the summer to live with Kevin’s grandfather. In this peeled-paint coal town deep in Appalachia, Kevin quickly falls in with a half-wild hollow kid named Buzzy Fink who schools him in the mysteries and magnificence of the woods. The events of this fateful summer will affect the entire town of Medgar, Kentucky.

Medgar is beset by a massive mountaintop removal operation that is blowing up the hills and back filling the hollows. Kevin’s grandfather and others in town attempt to rally the citizens against the “company” and its powerful owner to stop the plunder of their mountain heritage. When Buzzy witnesses a brutal hate crime, a sequence is set in play that tests Buzzy and Kevin to their absolute limits in an epic struggle for survival in the Kentucky mountains.

Redemptive and emotionally resonant, THE SECRET WISDOM OF THE EARTH is narrated by an adult Kevin looking back on the summer when he sloughed the coverings of a boy and took his first faltering steps as a man. His story is one with a rich cast of characters and an ambitious effort to reclaim a once great community.”

There are bad books, okay books, good books, profound books, many more kinds of books and books that settle in your soul. This book is a soul settler. I am an avid reader, but these books are those rare gems you happily stumble across at the moment when you most need them.  A book that deals with so many different hard truths, it captures you from the beginning and takes you along on the journey.

There are stories within the larger coming of age story, and each play their part in Kevin’s understanding of the town, the people, and the world he is growing up in.  As each piece falls into place, we see things we are so familiar with, and often, find a tiny piece of our self reflected back. We feel emotions for the characters, for the animals, and the for Earth.

In the beginning of this novel, part of the reason you keep reading is because you wish to know what so tragically happened to Kevin’s little brother. It is a secret well kept, and barely mentioned, until about half way through.  However, that is not the only heartbreaking tale Kevin must face during his summer with his Pops.  Pops is a griping character, full of life and passion, yet held back by his own grief.  In many of the people surrounding Kevin, I could see versions of others I have known in my own small Kentucky home.

One of my favorite quotes that truly resonated with me was: “I held her and she cried into my shoulder so deeply that I could feel the sorrow from her soul blending completely and profoundly with my own.”

The Kentucky backdrop is important to me, because I am from Kentucky myself, though no where near mining country. I am familiar with many of the things that pop in this novel, and loved the historical aspects. The subject matter that this book deals with – the death of a child, hatred, prejudice, environmental issues, jobs vs nature, and more are all large matters that still mean so much to the world and are so relevant today.

Perhaps all in all, this novel spoke to my soul simply because the past few months have been full of my own hard truths and heartbreaks, but wonderful moments and life changing events. I have a son who is fixing to be one year old, and I just prayed that nothing like this ever happened to him, as all mothers do when reading tragic stories. As I have grown, the Earth has started to mean more to me, and though moutaintop removal is nothing I have to deal with personally, I could not imagine the life where it is.  This book brings all of these things forward.

As I said, it is a soul settler. It is hard to believe it is Christopher Scotton‘s first novel, and as a writer I hope there are hidden copies of many other novels hidden somewhere. As a reader, I will avidly gather up whatever comes next.

Beautifully done.

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