The Miner’s Daughter
Gretchen Moran Laskas
Ages 14 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2007, 1-4169-1262-2
Deep in the grip of the Depression, life in the mining town of Riley, West Virginia, is very hard. The mines are not open very often these days and there is very little work to be had. Sixteen year old Willa keeps hearing about how things will get better when Mr. Roosevelt becomes the new president but when he does win the election the mines are closed down all together. What are they going to do now? Her father and her big brother Ves decide to go and work on the big Hawks Nest Tunnel industrial project “downstate” and Willa knows that her mother is going to need her more than ever to help take care of things at home. Didn’t she manage before when Mama could hardly do anything when she was pregnant with baby Rusty? Well, they will manage again somehow even without Daddy and Ves.
And so they do. Willa helps to take care of the house and the children, and in her spare time she reads books and talks to Miss Grace, the missionary lady who knows so much about the world and who thinks Willa is smart and gifted. In the summer Willa even dresses like a boy so she can go and work as a field hand. She gets paid in fresh produce which her mother cans so the family will have something to eat in the wintertime. Then there is Johnny, who admires Willa for her courage, her determination, her brains, and her love of poetry. He is there working beside her picking vegetables in the fields, and stealing coal for her family, and he is there to give her hope of a brighter future.
When Daddy comes home terribly ill because of the work that he did in the Hawks Nest Tunnel things look grim again until help comes from a very unexpected quarter. Willa finds that she has to make a very difficult decision about her future and in the process she also has to make a stand for what she believes in.
This is a very moving and thought provoking story which will give young adults a startling picture of how the Depression impacted an often forgotten section of American society. We often read about how people in the dust bowl areas and in farming communities were impacted by the disaster. This is the story of how a mining community was literally shut down and how the mining families had to find way to keep on going in spite of the fact that their livelihood was gone. Willa’s family did get help and yet so many others, who were not considered “suitable” did not. With great sympathy and obvious admiration the author tells the story of these people, giving them a voice so that we will all get to see how courageous they were in a time of great trouble and loss.
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