I recently started listening on Audible to Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and discovered the salt water marshes along the North Carolina coast. So far, this is an entrancing listen, and the wonderful descriptions of the marshes make me wish I had a hard copy of the book so I could share some of them with you! (Although my husband complained that the lyrical descriptions are misleading as there are no mosquitoes in the book!) It’s also responsible for my choice of state this time–it was just such a good one for this challenge that I had to include it, and since it was time for a new state… here we are.
Unlike some of the other Southern states, North Carolina doesn’t seem to have as many famous classics or as many famous authors–William Faulkner and Eudora Welty are from Mississippi; Margaret Mitchell, Flannery O’Connor, and Alice Walker are from Georgia, Pat Conroy and Sue Monk Kidd from South Carolina are more recent, and Alabama has authors like Harper Lee, Fanny Flagg, and Winston Groom (Forrest Gump). That’s not to say that I had a hard time finding North Carolina books and authors–it’s just that many of them didn’t have the name recognition of their peers… with one or two exceptions. In fact the more I dug, the more I found. They kept piling up, fighting for a spot on the list!
The Business Insider list of most famous books from each state that got me started on this challenge has A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks for North Carolina. I would have thought the most famous Nicholas Sparks book would be The Notebook, but Sparks is a prolific writer. I haven’t read The Notebook (or any of Sparks’ other books), but I’ve seen the movie version and I’m trying not to cover books I’ve read or seen in movie version. I’m skeptical of sappy romance-type books, and despite liking the movie The Notebook, I’m reluctant to put one on my list for this challenge–but I’ll put A Walk to Remember on my list and we’ll see.
I always try to pick books from a variety of regions in each state–and North Carolina is another state where there’s a big difference between those regions. North Carolina’s Outer Banks are a vacation and resort hot spot (and seeming magnet for hurricanes), and the Appalachian Mountains are a beautiful region which have struggled with poverty and other, often inter-related, issues. But the Delia Owens book made me recognize that the mountain region isn’t the only area of North Carolina that knows poverty.
As I was finalizing my initial choices, I realized that only our Young Reader selection and our saltwater marsh book were written by women. John Hart, Ron Rash, Wiley Cash, Nicholas Sparks, and Charles Frazier are all prominent writers for North Carolina, and several of our choices and alternates from them have female protagonists (or at least main characters–Serena, I’m looking at you!), but I wanted to include women authors as well. Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks, and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, are both debut novels, but I hope we get to read much more from both authors. I’m also going to include Outer Banks by Anne Rivers Siddons as an alternate to the Nicholas Sparks book.
Here’s the list for North Carolina:
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (2018) – Kya grows up mostly alone in the salt marsh along the North Carolina coast, abandoned by her family. The question of how a mother could leave her children permeates the story, as does her loneliness, which is tempered by her love for the marsh and all the life within it. Kya’s coming of age storyline in the 1950s and 1960s is interspersed with the investigation of the murder of Chase Andrews in late 1969. There are some wonderful birds in this one. (Goodreads link.)
A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (1999) – Tells the story of Landon Carter and Jamie Sullivan, and their shared Homecoming Dance in 1958 Beaufort, North Carolina. “Being with Jamie would show him the depths of the human heart and lead him to a decision so stunning it would send him irrevocably on the road to manhood. No other author today touches our emotions more deeply than Nicholas Sparks, illuminating both the strength and the gossamer fragility of our deepest emotions” (from Goodreads publisher’s blurb). UPDATE: I did read this one, but the setting isn’t strong. There are a couple of bits about Beaufort and/or the South, and an occasional reminder that it’s 1958, but overall we don’t really get a sense of location or time. It’s a nice book, but definitely not a great one for this reading challenge.
OR – I will probably only read one of these two. (I read both, but neither was very good for setting. I only reviewed one.)
Outer Banks by Anne Rivers Siddons (1991) – Siddons is from Georgia, and now splits her time between South Carolina and Maine, but I’m hopeful that this novel set in Nag’s Head will give us a real feel for the Outer Banks. Reviews on Goodreads seem split between those who loved it and those who hated it, with many of the latter complaining about its “gossipy” feel. But since the book is about the rekindling of a friendship between women who met as sorority sisters on a Southern campus in the 1960s, a certain amount of gossip seems integral to that premise. Siddons is a prolific and respected Southern writer, but not one I’ve read before.
Pushing the Bear by Diane Glancy (1996) – The subtitle is A Novel of the Trail of Tears, and it’s written by a Cherokee poet, author and playwright. We don’t usually cover books that take place in multiple states, but when I think of the Trail of Tears and the Cherokee, I think of North Carolina. The Trail of Tears was the forced migration or removal of Native Americans from much of the Southeastern US to reservations in Oklahoma and other areas west of the Mississippi. It’s an important part of the history of the US and North Carolina.
Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family In Slavery and Freedom by Tiya Miles (2005) – “It is the story of Shoe Boots, a famed Cherokee warrior and successful farmer, and Doll, an African slave he acquired in the late 1790s. Over the next thirty years, Shoe Boots and Doll lived together as master and slave and also as lifelong partners who, with their children and grandchildren, experienced key events in American history—including slavery, the Creek War, the founding of the Cherokee Nation and subsequent removal of Native Americans along the Trail of Tears, and the Civil War,” (Goodreads publisher’s blurb). This book may take place at least partly in Georgia, but we don’t really have others on the list that look at slavery and the African-American experience in North Carolina. This novel is apparently the result of some in-depth and frustrating research, and some reviews said the author struggled to fill in some of the holes. I’m undecided as yet between this one and Pushing the Bear; since it covers a longer period it will be less in-depth, but it also covers the Civil War and the African-American experience as well as the Trail of Tears. I’m leaving this on my Want to Read list; I had a hard time finding books on the African-American experience or the Native American experience for North Carolina. I really want to fill that gap, but North Carolina has dragged on for too long for me to read it now.
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (1997) – This is the North Carolina book that ends up on all the lists (and I mean all–Best Fiction, Best Southern Fiction, North Carolina fiction, Civil War fiction, Most Difficult Books, Most Often Started and Abandoned, etc.). It takes place toward the end of the Civil War as a wounded soldier walks home across the state to where his beloved is trying to restore her family’s farm in the mountains of western North Carolina. It should be very good for our challenge. (Goodreads link.)
Serena by Ron Rash (2008) – This one ends up on a lot of lists too–lists like Appalachian Fiction, Feminist Fiction, Best Book to Movie, and Jezebel’s Books All Women Should Read. Serena and her new husband move to the logging camps of western North Carolina, where it turns out he’s already managed to father an illegitimate son. When she realizes she is unable to bear a child, she plots to kill the bastard. One review on Goodreads said, “whenever i try to hard-sell this at work, i will usually just say: “it is like macbeth in a logging community. with a greek chorus.” which as a customer, i would hear and think, “i must read this book.” but it doesn’t always work. heathens.” Did I mention it’s also on a list of “The Vilest Woman in Fiction”?
Redemption Road by John Hart (2016) – Hart is known as a master of the literary thriller, but is also known for his skill with settings. “A boy with a gun waits for the man who killed his mother. A troubled detective confronts her past in the aftermath of a brutal shooting. After thirteen years in prison, a good cop walks free as deep in the forest, on the altar of an abandoned church, a body cools in pale linen… This is a town on the brink. This is Redemption Road” (from the Goodreads publisher’s blurb). It’s set in an unnamed small city in North Carolina; Hart is from Durham, so I’m assuming there may be some similarities, but that may not be the case. UPDATE – OOF! – I just cannot get into this one. Hart lost me from the very beginning with the “boy with the gun”‘s contempt for his father; I’m not even sure exactly why. Then, try as I might, I couldn’t really get interested in the real story of what happened in that basement. I really wanted to include a book by John Hart because of his wide acclaim and because of the urban setting, but I really couldn’t feel the setting either. I’m abandoning this one. 2ND UPDATE – Well, I gave it another chance, and… well, it was ok; see link above for a full review.
Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks (2014) – This debut novel takes place in western North Carolina in 1939, and is told from two perspectives–that of Irenie, who is somewhat taken by the lady USDA agent assigned to their area and somewhat disillusioned by her own marriage to a controlling ex-logger-turned-preacher, and that of Brodis, the husband who fears his wife has been bewitched and may be turning to the dark arts herself. The Goodreads publisher’s blurb describes it as, “The story of a woman intrigued by the possibility of change, escape, and reproductive choice—stalked by a Bible-haunted man who fears his government and stakes his integrity upon an older way of life.”
Anybody Shining by Francis O’Roark Dowell (2014) – This one is our Young Reader selection for North Carolina, though I saw several others that might work as well. It continues a theme of poverty and friendship that we’ve seen in books like If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, and is set in the western mountains of North Carolina, but also includes several kids visiting from Baltimore. It’s also apparently somewhat epistolary–told through letters–which I enjoy as both a reader and a writer. (Goodreads link.) UPDATE: After I added Shine, I figured I wouldn’t read this one, but I did, and it was really good–both in general and for our reading challenge. I won’t do a full review, but this would be a great one for a historical look at the Appalachian Mountain folk. That said, it would probably work for other states in the Appalachians–Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia… And I do want to give a link to information about the stack cake mentioned, since it’s unique to the Appalachians.
Shine by Lauren Myracle (2011) – Updated Young Adult/Young Reader choice for North Carolina. A more contemporary choice for younger readers–middle to high school. There is discussion of drug addiction and a description/flashback of a sexual assault. High schooler Cat has been withdrawn from her friends for the 3 years since her near rape, and so she wasn’t around when her former best friend, Patrick–who isn’t exactly out, but isn’t exactly closeted either–is beaten nearly to death in an apparent anti-gay hate crime. Out of guilt, as well as a conviction that the police can’t or won’t do anything, she begins investigating the events of that night. Set in the fictional town of Black Creek in central or western North Carolina.
The Hornet’s Nest by Jimmy Carter (2003) – Yes, it’s written by that Jimmy Carter–the former President. He’s written a number of non-fiction books, but this was his first novel, and many reviews complained that at times it reads like non-fiction–too many dry historical details. It’s also not exactly or not entirely set in North Carolina–it’s set in Georgia, both Carolinas, and Florida. However, the title is often used as a nickname for the city of Charlotte, North Carolina for its role in the Revolutionary War–the city was a hornet’s nest of uprising. And that’s what the novel is about–the role of the South in the Revolutionary War, which is something that isn’t really discussed much when we learn about that period in history. The book also details the way Native Americans were used as pawns by both sides of the war. So I will likely give this a shot, but I’m listing it as an alternate for now.
This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash (2014) – This novel, set in western North Carolina, has an intriguing premise. “After their mother’s unexpected death, twelve-year-old Easter and her six-year-old sister Ruby are adjusting to life in foster care when their errant father, Wade, suddenly appears. Since Wade signed away his legal rights, the only way he can get his daughters back is to steal them away in the night,” (Goodreads publisher’s blurb). But the girls’ court-appointed guardian is not the only one searching for Wade.
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash (2017) – Takes place in 1929 in the foothills of the Appalachians. We already have several that take place in this area, but this one is set in a different time period from the others on our list. It also deals with the lives of workers–particularly women–in the textile mills and with the labor movement, while the other books set in the area seem to be about family and subsistence farmers. We’ll see whether others on our list deal with the mills and mill workers, and decide as we go along.
The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen (2010) – This author has written a series of magical realism books set in North Carolina. I happened to find this one at a Little Free Library, and the Other Blogger covered another of her books–Garden Spells. It intertwines the stories of two women, Emily and Julia, one young and returning to the town, the other 34 and longing to leave. A light read (which most on our list are NOT) that was often described as “sweet,” it also is supposed to be good at evoking its North Carolina setting. I might pick this up if I need something lighter.