Feuds among the mountain folks of West Virginia and Kentucky, particularly the bloody skirmishes between the Hatfield and McCoy families, are often celebrated in American legend and folksongs. In The Coffin Quilt
, Ann Rinaldi mines this rich vein of Americana for a fascinating tale that closely follows the real events of the Hatfield-McCoy feud, but which also has implications for our own violent times. Rinaldi--known for Cast Two Shadows
, An Acquaintance with Darkness
, and other historical fiction novels for teens--suggests in her author's note that "the Civil War conditioned men who fought in it to kill and to hate." Consequently, men came home from the war to their mountains with minds and rifles primed to react to the slightest trespass upon their exaggerated loyalty to kinfolk. The story is told by Fanny, the youngest of the fourteen McCoy children, who traces the beginnings of the famous feud to a confused Civil War shooting and a dispute over a herd of pigs. When her favorite older sister, the beautiful Roseanna, runs off with handsome Johnse Hatfield, it's like a bucket of gasoline thrown on the smoldering hatred between the two families. Warned by the apparition she calls Yeller Thing, Fanny is nonetheless a helpless witness to ambushes and killings, burials and retribution. Too late she realizes that Roseanna's obsession with sewing a traditional but gruesome coffin-decorated quilt is a sign of her evil attraction to deliberately stoking the fires of the feud--providing a psychological thriller ending for this dramatic tale of hillbilly love and revenge. (Ages 10 to 14) --Patty Campbell
From Publishers Weekly
Fanny McCoy, the protagonist and narrator of Rinaldi's (A Break with Charity; An Acquaintance with Darkness) tautly plotted historical novel about the infamous feuding families effectively portrays the clans' divided loyalties and cycle of violence. This colorful novel, an addition to the Great Episodes series, begins in 1889, when Fanny is 16, at a hanging, and flashes back to 1880 to describe the evolution of the quarrel Fanny claims would never have started "if not for my sister Roseanna. And I can say this, because I loved her best of all." Roseanna McCoy, "so purty that just being next to her is better than a piece of rock candy," ran off with Johnse Hatfield and ignited the tinder box of residual hatred still smoldering from "The War Amongst Us" (the Civil War). As Roseanna stitches the title quilt, she morbidly records the interwoven fates of the two families, and Fanny, watching her, gradually realizes that her sister courted destruction and "dragged so many of us with her." Through homespun language, folk remedies, superstition and a vivid picture of a vengeful religion (e.g., Mama McCoy constantly shifts the pebbles of those in her prayers between the saved and damned piles), Rinaldi skillfully paints the code of honor of Kentucky and West Virginia mountain families. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)
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