Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin
Goodreads: Lynn Austin Will Delight Readers with Her Winsome Heroine
Alice Grace Ripley lives in a dream world, her nose stuck in a book. But the happily-ever-after life she's planned on suddenly falls apart when her boyfriend, Gordon, breaks up with her, accusing her of living in a world of fiction instead of the real world. Then to top it off, Alice loses her beloved job at the library because of cutbacks due to the Great Depression.
Fleeing small-town gossip, Alice heads to the mountains of eastern Kentucky to deliver five boxes of donated books to a library in the tiny coal-mining village of Acorn. Dropped off by her relatives, Alice volunteers to stay for two weeks to help the librarian, Leslie McDougal.
But the librarian turns out to be far different than she anticipated--not to mention the four lady librarians who travel to the remote homes to deliver the much-desired books. When Alice is trapped in Acorn against her will, she soon finds that real-life adventure and mystery--and especially romance--are far better than her humble dreams could have imagined.
My take: This is a very well written book that 1) gets into the head of the reader who befuddles her friends by using lesser known words, 2) creates a wonderful protagonist this reader could understand and relate to, 3) walks around depression era small town America and 4) provides insight to coal mining towns and share cropping. Both with their downfalls.
What Allie stumbles into is a small town suffering in the Great Depression. She also stumbles into the web of the coal mining business which kept the miners consistently in debt. There is also a contrast by using Lillie, a century old woman who has lived a dozen lives and experienced many losses. She was a slave before the Civil War, lost a couple of husbands and children, a sharecropper, and a sage. Lillie also acts as the voice of the Christian believer.
The main character is particularly well developed. The history is outlined in a compelling manner. The truth about the both share cropping and coal mining is that the owners of the land and mines also owned the shacks where the workers lived, the stores where the workers bought inflated priced goods, and the workers always owed more than they brought home. Safety was sacrificed and the only ones getting rich were the owners. Innocent people died all the time with no accountability.
Mack, the hero (although not the romantic interest, necessarily. Alice is much too busy for much romance, although some is included in a more realistic manner later on), is an educated man who returns to his home town to make his world a better place. He takes advantage of new government programs while investigating the criminal activity of a now defunct coal mine.
Although seeming fantastic, my own understanding is congruent with this story. A small town within a couple of hour's drive from my home is now a ghost town that used to be a huge coal mining operation. The history and ledgers prove all the facts of this story to be true. The miners and their families lived in abject poverty and were charged astronomical prices for their homes (which they never owned) and food. There was no way for them to achieve the American Dream. This town's ending, however, is far different from Acorn, Kentucky.
Like the coal mine in the book, the Scofield coal mine sacrificed safety measures (although I am unaware of purposeful murder, I would not be surprised). The entire mine exploded, wiping out the mining community. Without fathers and husbands, the women and children (still in poverty) moved someplace else.
Clever writing style, interesting story line, realistic plot.