M.C. Higgins the Great by Virginia Hamilton

Our Score

Synopsis

Set in Appalachia of northern Kentucky along the Ohio River,  M.C. Higgins is the oldest son in an African American family, proud of his great grandmother’s mountain and proud of his skills as a swimmer, a hunter-tracker, and how he can shimmy up his forty-foot steel pole to view the hills. Then two strangers enter his domain. The first might be able to make M.C.’s mother a famous singer. The second is a girl who lives the kind of freedom M.C. never considered aiming for.

Over all of them, hover the age-old superstitions handed down through the generations and the brewing storm of strip miners laying bare Sarah’s Mountain. M.C. will soon need to make a choice: stay on his mountain as the coal industry destroys it, or move off the mountain and join the modern world.

Pros

  1. The setting may be more of a main character than M.C. Higgins. Virginia Hamilton’s descriptive imagery is superb.
  2. Readers will gain a solid sense of the culture that has inhabited Appalachia for centuries.
  3. While this is a coming-of-age story during a specific era in a specific setting, it goes beyond race bias and evil coal mine owners. This is M.C.’s story and what happens between him and his parents, between him and his siblings, and between him and the strangers who visit his mountain.

Cons

  1. The setting may be more of a main character than M.C. Higgins. Hamilton’s descriptive imagery and literary style will cause the average juvenile reader to close the book by page 10. I was a voracious reader as a child, but this book would not have held my interest. I would have skipped all the amazing prose to get to the action.
  2. The relationship between M.C. and his father bothered me. They loved each other, respected one another, but the way each challenged the other bordered on generating feelings of hate and disrespect.

Conclusion

M.C. Higgins the Great was a novel I appreciated for its literary excellence. It painted a portrait of one specific area of the United States with a brush that allowed me to become immersed in the setting using every one of my senses. However, I believe it’s a novel geared toward adults, not youth. It takes an especially thoughtful young reader to enjoy what M.C. Higgins has to offer.

Linda Samaritoni
Linda Samaritoni, writing as Linda Sammaritan, has her feet firmly on the ground and her mind reaching for heaven. Each day is an adventure on her journey with Jesus. After a career teaching middle-graders, Linda loves to write contemporary stories for the same age group. She also loves to jot down spiritual ideas within metaphors. Check out her other blogs at www.lindasammaritan.com and www.puttingonthenew.com.

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