Monday, March 31, 2008

The Miner's Daughter by Gretchen Moran Laskas

Reading The Miner’s Daughter is like sitting on old, broken down porch steps, chatting with main character, Willa and her mentor, Miss Grace. The desolation of Riley Mines, a coal camp in West Virginia where the pair meets, is so authentic that the reader is literally taken to that place. At any moment, one expects little sister, Seraphina, to crash through the door or older brother, Ves to amble up the road, Daddy trailing behind, coughing from coal dust pneumonia.

Sixteen-year-old Willa’s life is a bleak one. As predicted, FDR’s election spells the shutdown of the coal mine where her father and brother worked. Her mother, weakened in both body and spirit by a recent childbirth, is unable to cope with the daily rigors of running a family under such austere circumstances.

The burden falls onto Willa, and while she rises to the challenge, she finds frustration by the monotony and seeming futility of trying to make right in a company town that is square set against her and her family.

Her world changes when Miss Grace comes to town. Miss Grace introduces Willa to books; not just the love of reading, but also the language of the written word. Through Miss Grace, Willa comes to understand that stories have powers that reach beyond entertainment or merely passing the time away.

Author Gretchen Moran Laskas does an amazing job of weaving excerpts from literary classics into Willa’s narrative to convey the connection in a Depression era setting. At one point, when Willa is determined to find fieldwork, her only option for income, Willa likens herself to Jo March, from Little Women, cutting her hair and taking on a boy’s persona – the only way to land work when employment was so scarce only men earned the right to hold a paying job.

Her use of Poe’s Eldorado, a poem Miss Grace describes as meaning, ‘perfect place’ takes the story full circle when Willa and her family actually move to Arthurdale. When Willa first reads the poem, about a man looking for utopia, she’s still in Riley Mines. Her idea of utopia is nothing more than freeing herself from the monotony of daily chores and financial worries. But once her family moves to Arthurdale, a utopian-type homestead community of Eleanor Roosevelt’s nurturing and one her family is chosen to join, she finds that the idea of utopia has many shades of meaning.

Laskas, Gretchen Moran. The Miner's Daughter. New York : Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2007. 9781416912620 (hc) 1416912622 (hc).

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

Becky, this review is fabulous! Your whole blog is beautiful and extremely professional. Surely it should capture the attention of teachers who can use your words, reviews, etc in their classroom.