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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Unique Coal Mining Story Deserves Better

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Life in The Patch is not easy - not for the men and boys who spend their days mining coal, not for the wives and mothers who pray constantly for their safety, and not for the children who swallow toxic coal dust with their every breath. For the McCaffertys and the other immigrant families, ekeing out a living in northeastern Pennsylvania beats starving in their native Ireland. But only just. Not only are the patch families barely scraping by, but the miners' jobs are becoming more and more dangerous as wealthy mine owners scrimp on safety precautions in order to fill coal carts more quickly. The shriek of the breaker whistle comes too often - "accidents" maim, kill, and orphan.

Call Me Kate, Molly Roe's debut novel and the first book in a projected trilogy, starts with the siren's wail. When her best friend charges into the schoolroom one morning, 14-year-old Katie McCafferty knows it can mean only one thing - her father has become the mine's newest victim. Although he survives, his injuries leave him bedridden. Although she loves school, Katie has no choice but to leave the classroom and find work as a servant. When she lands a coveted position in the household of Ario Pardee, a rich mine owner, Katie must prove herself to the demanding houskeeper. Any missteps could mean termination, which will equal no income for her family back in The Patch.

Although Katie works in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, her thoughts are never far from The Patch. With the enactment of the Northern draft (October 1862), tensions are running high between the immigrant miners and the nativists. Rumors of her best friend's involvement in the resistance movement alarms Katie enough to risk her job - not to mention her life - to save him. Can a young lass like her really make a difference in the increasingly dangerous conflict? Can she rescue her friend from his own hard-headedness? Does she have the strength, the courage, to carry out the subterfuge necessary to accomplish the impossible task?

Call Me Kate brings this tumultuous period of history to life, blending period detail with the fictional (but historically accurate) adventures of Katie McCafferty. It's a fascinating glimpse into the stark realities of life as a miner in the late 19th Century. The story's compelling in and of itself, which is a very good thing since Roe's characters leave much to be desired. With little personality; stiff, unnatural conversations; and no real depth, Roe's story people might as well be cardboard cutouts. It doesn't help that the author spends most of the novel telling rather than showing. The tale is rich, exciting, compelling - the characters and storytelling need to be equally so. Flat characters and lackluster prose weigh down what could otherwise be an excellent novel. Molly Roe has a unique story to tell - let's hope the next two novels imbue it with the richness it deserves.

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for some violence

To the FTC, with love: Tribute Books send me a complimentary copy of Call Me Kate for my review. The "price" of the book didn't influence my opinion in any way.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for taking the time to review "Call Me Kate."

    ReplyDelete

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