Summary and book reviews of The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

by Christopher Scotton

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2015, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2016, 496 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

Timely and timeless, this is a dramatic and deeply moving novel about an act of violence in a small, Southern town and the repercussions that will forever change a young man's view of human cruelty and compassion.

After witnessing the death of his younger brother in a terrible home accident, 14-year-old Kevin and his grieving mother are sent for the summer to live with Kevin's grandfather. In this peeled-paint coal town deep in Appalachia, Kevin quickly falls in with a half-wild hollow kid named Buzzy Fink who schools him in the mysteries and magnificence of the woods. The events of this fateful summer will affect the entire town of Medgar, Kentucky.

Medgar is beset by a massive Mountaintop Removal operation that is blowing up the hills and back filling the hollows. Kevin's grandfather and others in town attempt to rally the citizens against the 'company' and its powerful owner to stop the plunder of their mountain heritage. When Buzzy witnesses the brutal murder of the opposition leader, a sequence is set in play which tests Buzzy and Kevin to their absolute limits in an epic struggle for survival in the Kentucky mountains.

Redemptive and emotionally resonant, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is narrated by an adult Kevin looking back on the summer when he sloughed the coverings of a boy and took his first faltering steps as a man among a rich cast of characters and an ambitious effort to reclaim a once great community.

The Diamond State

The Appalachian Mountains rise a darker blue on the washed horizon if you're driving east from Indiana in the morning. The green hills of the piedmont brace the wooded peaks like sandbags against a rising tide. The first settlers were hunters, trappers, and then farmers when the game went west. In between the hills and mountains are long, narrow hollows where farmers and cattle scratch a living with equal frustration. And under them, from the Tug Fork to the Clinch Valley, a thick plate of the purest bitumi- nous coal on the Eastern Seaboard.

June was midway to my fifteenth birthday and I remember the miles between Redhill, Indiana, and Medgar, Kentucky, roll- ing past the station wagon window on an interminable canvas of cornfields and cow pastures, petty towns and irrelevant truck stops. I remember watching my mother from the backseat as she stared at the telephone poles flishing past us, the reflection of the white highway line in the window strobing her ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Scotton's writing is exceptionally evocative — not only does he really help readers "see" the scenes he sets, he's got a superb ability to convey realistic dialog. Although I definitely enjoyed the novel, I did have a couple of issues with the plot. The author tackles a number of very large themes, some more successfully than others. Despite its flaws, I consider The Secret Wisdom of the Earth to be a little gem of a book, and have thought about it often, which is always a good sign. It's got so much going for it that I think most will be willing to overlook the novel's weaknesses and will find many reasons to appreciate it in the end.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review (703 words).

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Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review

A page turner...What [Scotton] should be congratulated on is his willingness to tell a new story in an old neighborhood, to draw characters who are thoroughly human, and to create a story that leads to terror and redemption, love and survival.

The Chicago Tribune

Cotton writes with deep understanding about how the mines eventually got played out and the impact of mountaintop removal... Evil may defy understanding, but in that inquiry into evil, this lovely novel brings readers closer.

O, The Oprah Magazine

[A] pulse-quickening debut . . . Scotton tempers his Gothic tale with poignant insights into the crushing weight of loss . . . The Secret Wisdom of the Earth melds beguiling characters with an urgent ecological message.

USA Today

Solid, sometimes soaring debut...written in taut, propulsive prose...a big, old-fashioned yarn well worth the telling.

The Washington Post

Scotton is a natural storyteller with a terrific knack for visiting trouble upon his characters and pushing them into confrontation...Not a page goes by without a threat, a promise, an action or a reckoning...expertly woven.

The Oklahoman

A deeply moving story about human cruelty and compassion...wonderful...This book reminded me a little of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird

News and Observer

Marvelous...Scotton writes with deep understanding...with a vivid but light touch.

Publishers Weekly

Neither the first portrait of mining country nor the most original, Scotton's novel nonetheless makes for compelling reading when the action grows intense—managing, like the landscape it describes, to be simultaneously frightening and beautiful.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A powerful epic of people and place, loss and love, reconciliation and redemption.

Author Blurb John Grisham
[A] marvelous debut...The setting, in the coal country of Appalachia, is rich in history and lore and tragedy. A young teenager comes of age under the wise counsel of his grandfather. An ugly murder haunts a small town. The story has everything a big, thick novel should have, and I hated to put it down.

Reader Reviews

S Johnson

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth - my nominee for Best Book of the Year
This is the first book I have read in a long while that completely captivated me from the first sentence. The mood and voice of this book is so intimate, the reader is engaged immediately. And what are drawn into? - a tragic family tale, a young ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Coal Mining: Basic Overview

According to the World Coal Association, the global annual haul for hard coal is over 6000 million tons, with the top five producers being China, the United States, India, Australia and South Africa.

Coal mining is usually broken up into two categories: Surface (also known as opencast) and underground. The latter currently accounts for a greater percentage of the world's coal production, but its popularity depends on the country; in the United States, for example, surface mining is the method more widely used.

Coal Strip Mine in Wyoming The choice of method largely depends on the geology of the coal deposit. Surface mining, used when when the ore is near the surface, can recover nearly 90% of the coal in a deposit. In this method, the strata covering the ...

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