Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Puffin (March 15, 2007)
Source of book: Bought it
"From the high branch of our old red maple where I sit under a starry sky, I spy Mama in the bedroom tending to the babies. Down on the porch below, Daddy picks the banjo soft and sweet. Mama covers up my little sister, Gentle, who used to sleep in the shirt drawer in Mama and Daddy's bedroom. Now she shares a crib with the twins, Caroline and Cyrus, because Mama just had herself another girl child named Appelonia who claims Gentle's drawer.
I reckon in this family that's how you know you've done gone and graduated from being a baby--going from drawer to crib." (p. 1)
With these words, I was hooked on Gentle's Holler, the first book in Kerry Madden's Maggie Valley trilogy. Narrated in first-person by 12-year-old Livy Two Weems, Gentle's Holler tells the story of the Weems family living in the Maggie Valley area of the Smoky Mountains in the 1960s. With money hard to come by and 11 mouths to feed, the Weems don't have much. Daddy is a musician and has been trying to sell a banjo hit for years, and with nine children, Mamma is worn out. And what's more, there's something terribly wrong with three-year-old Gentle's vision. Livy Two comes up with a plan to train their dachshund Uncle Hazard to be a seeing eye dog and to teach Gentle how to read braille. But when tragedy strikes, the family struggles to survive and stay together.
When I read Jen Robinson's review of the Maggie Valley trilogy a couple of months ago, I immediately added the three books to my wish list. First, Jen's review convinced me that I would like the characters and the story, but because I grew up in southwestern Virginia, I have a special interest in Appalachian and Southern literature. I'm always on the lookout for literature that depicts the people of these regions in a positive manner, so I was certain that I would enjoy these books. After reading Gentle's Holler, I was definitely not disappointed and have become a huge Kerry Madden fan.
From the very beginning of the book, you can hear Livy Two's voice and know instantly that she's spunky, smart, kind, and a bit loquacious. This voice carries through the book, and there were moments throughout when I laughed out loud, as I did here:
"I may come from a big family, but I already know I don't want children. I want my own house all to myself in the holler, and I swear I won't fill it with nothing but banjo music and vases of mountain laurel and plenty of food. My nieces and nephews will be allowed to visit on Saturday from one to two. I want a homemade rocking chair and a granny quilt on the bed and a rug from Persia on the floor. I wouldn't mind a fancy refrigerator or, even better, a record player like other regular folks have, and I would play me all kinds of music from Patsy Cline to Mozart." (pp. 54-55)I found myself liking Livy Two and caring about what happened to this family, and Kerry Madden never lets the readers forget the poverty that surrounds the family. They're hungry. Livy Two often feels guilty and ashamed for sneaking an extra bite of cornbread, and her older brother Emmett, is angry at their father for letting them starve. They are unable to take Gentle to the doctor to get her eyes examined. When Daddy brings the dog, Uncle Hazard, home, Mama is furious because they now have another mouth to feed.
But despite this, it's evident that the family loves each other, and I was impressed with the way Kerry Madden was able to depict the love and tenderness that existed among this family. On one occasion, the tapping of a woodpecker inspires Daddy to pick up his banjo and start playing. Soon all of the children are singing and dancing, and Livy Two proclaims, "Sometimes our house is filled with so much love and happiness that a body can't hardly stand it." (p. 59)
On another occasion, Livy Two, overhears her sister Louise, trying to teach Gentle the colors through her senses,
"Pretty soon, I hear Louise carrying Gentle through the edge of the woods, telling her all about color. 'Now Gentle, eat this blueberry and you'll understand the color blue. Azure, sapphire, navy, and indigo. That's other names for blue.'" (88)
Gentle's Holler is a book about love, hardship, and hope. Livy Two teaches us to dream big and to never give up when faced with bad news. But she also teaches us to enjoy life regardless of how much or how little you have.
I'm looking forward to reading the other books in the trilogy.
What Other Bloggers Are Saying:
Jen Robinson's Book Page: (on the triology) "All three books are lyrical and heart-warming, and likely to bring tears to your eyes. However, they have enough humor to keep them from being sappy, and enough conflict to keep them interesting." (read more...)
Of Books and Boys: "Although the book is laced with difficulties and tragedy, it is a lovingly-told tale and the narrator's voice is strong and true." (read more...)
Deliciously Clean Reads: (on the trilogy) "These books are populated with distinctive and quirky characters, unforgettable names, and much warmth. They are wholesome, funny, and heartwarming!" (read more...)
Favorite PASTimes: "Gentle’s Holler is a pleasant read. The Weems family, while poor, is never lacking in love. And the warmth and strength of family shine through. "(Read more...)