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The Saints of Swallow Hill by Donna Everhart

Reading about the Great Depression and the struggles folks faced isn’t generally my cup of tea. Don’t get me wrong, I love historical fiction, especially when it teaches me something, but I find reading about this time period difficult. Maybe it’s because it is still too fresh. The idea that my grandparent’s generation suffered through this time period just really hurts my heart. 

All that being said, I’m glad I took a chance on this story. While the Great Depression provides the confines and motivations of the characters in this book, they are a world in and of themselves. This author is a master of regional dialect. Her ability to capture dialogue in a way that pulled me further into the story is just incredible. That she dug into an aspect of American history I was completely unaware of and managed to make it relatable for a modern reader is nothing short of masterful. 

I empathized with her imperfect characters, was moved by the elements of our country’s past that need to be told, and took her time building the urgency and connection between her characters.

While there are a few places where challenges seemed to disappear a little to easily, they were well balanced by those places where I had no idea how the characters were going to recover.  

For its wonderful exploration of a time period and culture, and the acknowledgment where the author shared where the ideas and seed from her story originated, this book earns a solid 4.5 stars from me.

4.5/5

Book Details

It takes courage to save yourself…

Few writers evoke the complexities of the heart and the gritty fascination of the American South as vividly as Donna Everhart, whose lyrical new novel, set against the background of the Great Depression, is a powerful story of courage, survival, and friendship…
In the dense pine forests of North Carolina, turpentiners labor, hacking into tree trunks to draw out the sticky sap that gives the Tar Heel State its nickname, and hauling the resin to stills to be refined. Among them is Rae Lynn Cobb and her husband, Warren, who run a small turpentine farm together.

Though the work is hard and often dangerous, Rae Lynn, who spent her childhood in an orphanage, is thankful for it–and for her kind if careless husband. When Warren falls victim to his own negligence, Rae Lynn undertakes a desperate act of mercy. To keep herself from jail, she disguises herself as a man named “Ray” and heads to the only place she can think of that might offer anonymity–a turpentine camp in Georgia named Swallow Hill.

Swallow Hill is no easy haven. The camp is isolated and squalid, and commissary owner Otis Riddle takes out his frustrations on his browbeaten wife, Cornelia. Although Rae Lynn works tirelessly, she becomes a target for Crow, the ever-watchful woods rider who checks each laborer’s tally. Delwood Reese, who’s come to Swallow Hill hoping for his own redemption, offers “Ray” a small measure of protection, and is determined to improve their conditions. As Rae Lynn forges a deeper friendship with both Del and Cornelia, she begins to envision a path out of the camp. But she will have to come to terms with her past, with all its pain and beauty, before she can open herself to a new life and seize the chance to begin again.

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