Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Review: Louisiana's Song

Louisiana's Song is the second volume in Kerry Madden's charming Maggie Valley trilogy. Set in North Carolina's Smokey Mountains in the early 1960s, Louisiana's Song tells the tale of the Weems family through the eyes of twelve-year-old Livy (Two) Weems.

There are ten children in the Weems family, so when dad is injured in a car accident times are hard. Even more troubling for the Weems family is the fact that Dad's memory has been altered and he's often confused and irritable. Mom and Grandma are worried about money, and Grandma, who has become the de facto head of the household, is threatening a move from the mountains to a nearby town so mom can find steady work.

Before you get any wrong ideas, let me tell you Louisiana's Song is not a problem novel nor is it a tale of rural woe. Instead the Weems family is hopeful, hardworking and full of joy and creativity. The older children find work and extra ways to make money. They band together as a team, make enough to get by, and have plenty of fun in the process. Livy convinces shy Louise (Louisiana of the title) to sell her art. Livy herself works in the bookmobile and tries to sell her songs to an agent in Nashville. (Her letters to the agent are pure genius.) Another sister gets a job in the pancake restaurant, and eldest son Emmett moves away to work at a local amusement park. Along the way, Livy takes her toddler siblings on fairy hunts and creates a beautiful pop-up book for them with the help of Louise and a local Mennonite girl.

Although the Weems family lives in near isolation, it's 1963 and times are turbulent and confusing. The novel ends when Kennedy was assassinated and Louise and Livy take Dad and their younger siblings on a fairy hunt to avoid their shocked mother and grandma. When Dad disappears, Livy and Louise have to find the courage to make things right.

Louisiana's Song is a beautifully written novel for intelligent readers ages nine and up. Livy Two is a compelling narrator with a heart of gold. The novel ends with a big question: Will the Weems family leave Maggie Valley? I for one can't wait to find out, but will have to as Jessie's Mountain won't be out until 2008.

Louisiana's Song will be available on May 17.

I've interviewed Kerry Madden for the May issue of The Edge of the Forest (up May 10).