Coal River by Ellen Marie Wiseman, C. S. E. Cooney (Narrator)
Published by Tantor Audio on November 24, 2015
In this vibrant new historical novel, the acclaimed author of The Plum Tree and What She Left Behind explores one young woman’s determination to put an end to child labor in a Pennsylvania mining town.
As a child, Emma Malloy left isolated Coal River, Pennsylvania, vowing never to return. Now, orphaned and penniless at nineteen, she accepts a train ticket from her aunt and uncle and travels back to the rough-hewn community. Treated like a servant by her relatives, Emma works for free in the company store. There, miners and their impoverished families must pay inflated prices for food, clothing, and tools, while those who owe money are turned away to starve.
Most heartrending of all are the breaker boys Emma sees around the village–young children who toil all day sorting coal amid treacherous machinery. Their soot-stained faces remind Emma of the little brother she lost long ago, and she begins leaving stolen food on families’ doorsteps, and marking the miners’ bills as paid.
Though Emma’s actions draw ire from the mine owner and police captain, they lead to an alliance with a charismatic miner who offers to help her expose the truth. And as the lines blur between what is legal and what is just, Emma must risk everything to follow her conscience.
An emotional, compelling novel that rings with authenticity–Coal River is a deft and honest portrait of resilience in the face of hardship, and of the simple acts of courage that can change everything.
Emma Malloy left Coal River as a teen and planned to never return. She has memories of her brother’s death by drowning and blames herself. When her parents are killed in a theatre fire in New York, she is left destitute. Her Aunt and Uncle in Coal River send her a ticket to come and live with them and she finds herself returning to a place she does not want to be. It is 1912, in a Pennsylvania coal mining town, where her uncle is “a boss” who also runs the company store. Mining is a horribly dangerous and back breaking job. The breaker boys, children as young as six are sent into the mines, such a heartbreaking thing. Children were not allowed to be children during this time unless they came from wealthy families. They are maimed, die from black lung disease, lose eyes and have a terrible existence. Even though Child Labor Laws have been passed in the period of this novel, as well as safety laws for the miners, they are all broken by this company. Emma want to help the families and the children.
Emma is a strong female character who has experienced tragedy in her young life and yet still has strength and courage to try to go against an unjust system. She goes against her family, who do not treat her well, to follow her heart. She puts her own life in danger to bring light to the injustice in the ways that are available to her at the time. Many reviewers felt Emma was too good to be true, but I believe she was a realistic heroine, who really did not have much to live for in her life and was very unhappy in her role. All the secondary characters are interesting and complex in their own right. The plot flows to a suspenseful conclusion that was violent, sad and eventful. My big complaint and reason I only gave this book 3.5 stars was the ending. It was too neatly tied up. As we moved to end, it could have ended sadly as that would have been expected at the time, but the author tied it up in a neat bow with a happy ending.
About the Author: A first-generation German American, Ellen Marie Wiseman discovered her love of reading and writing while attending first grade in one of the last one-room schoolhouses in NYS. She is a bestselling author whose novels have been translated into eighteen languages. Her debut novel, THE PLUM TREE, is loosely based on her mother’s stories about growing up in Germany during the chaos of WWII. THE PLUM TREE received much praise for its depiction of WWII and was named by Bookbub as One of Thirteen Books To Read if You Loved ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. Ellen’s second novel, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND, was named a Huffington Post Best Books of Summer 2015. Her third novel, COAL RIVER, was called “one of the most “unputdownable” books of 2015″ by The Historical Novel Review. Her fourth novel, THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN, was named A GREAT GROUP READS Selection of the Women’s National Book Association and National Reading Group Month, and a Goodreads Best of the Month for July. Ellen lives on the shores of Lake Ontario with her husband and two spoiled Shih-tzus, Izzy and Bella. When she’s not busy writing, she loves spending time with her children and grandchildren. Find Ellen on Facebook at: www.Facebook.com/EllenMarieWisemanAuthor