Twelve-year-old Chili has a burning desire to see the world, but “People don’t leave Mercy Hill,” says her momma. She is the child of a poor, tight-knit Appalachian family, so this particular dream seems even more unlikely to come true. Then Miss Matlock, the new substitute teacher and a well-traveled former daughter of Mercy Hill, enters her life. She encourages Chili’s wanderlust with books, souvenirs, and stories from far-off places while pushing her academically. But Chili’s mentor has earned the disdain of the townsfolk for turning her back on them. Brief slice-of-life vignettes piece together the puzzle of Miss Matlock’s past, slowly reveal Mercy Hill’s history, and showcase Chili’s struggle with growing up. Fawcett’s debut novel displays great promise. The frank prose is laced with wistful longing even while exploring heady themes like gender, class, love, and loyalty. Reluctant readers will find an engaging, lyrical story that excites their sense of wonder, and discover that though they may venture forth, home will never be far away. Grades 5-8. --Courtney Jones
About the Author
KATIE PICKARD FAWCETT grew up in the hills of Eastern Kentucky and spent two years as a social worker in Appalachia. She has counseled and tutored students in the Washington, D.C. area, written ads for Peace Corps and VISTA, and worked for the World Bank writing about development projects in Third World countries. Her personal essays have been published in several magazines, and her favorite diversion is travel and the different cultural experiences it brings. She lives with her husband and son in McLean, Virginia. Visit her on the Web at KatiePickardFawcett.Wordpress.com.