Road to Tater Hill, by Edith M. Hemingway;
Delacorte Books for Young Readers: New
York, 2009; $16.99
It was a delightful coincidence to find a book in the library that was set where I live! Road to Tater Hill is a heartwarming and fulfilling story of friendship, family, hope, home, and the bumpy road through grief. As eleven-year-old Annie Winters spends another summer at her grandparents’ house in the mountains of North Carolina, I could imagine every sight and smell of the creek, rhododendrons, washed-out clay roads, and windy hilltops easily because my house is nestled in similar North Carolina woods. I’ve enjoyed trips to waterfalls and mountaintops just like the ones in the book. This summer, however, is like no other for Annie. Her Air Force dad is overseas in Germany, leaving Annie and her mother alone when their day-old baby, Mary Kate, dies. Annie grieves the death of her only sister, who she never even got to see, and she struggles as the whole house falls into gloom. While her mother sinks into a stony depression, Annie escapes to visit the creek to hold her “rock baby,” a river stone whose weight is a comfort while cradled in her arms. She later befriends a reclusive mountain woman, Miss Eliza, who is mysterious at first, but Annie realizes that she is just lonely, too. The two share similarly sad stories and troubles, but also wisdom that helps Annie cope with her mother’s behavior and reconciles Miss Eliza back into the community.
While I’m grateful to have been spared from anything as heartbreaking as losing a close family member, the way the book described the behavior of the characters in their sorrow was very real to me. I would be as frustrated as Annie is when the household tiptoes around the subject of the baby. It was also interesting to compare the emotional outlet that she and Miss Eliza found in the rock baby, books, and weaving, to Annie’s grandma’s constant, busy kitchen work. My grandmother also sometimes seems to live in the kitchen, so it seemed fitting that busying about in the kitchen would be her outlet. Another similarity between Annie and me is that she’s close to her grandpa. In the story, he’s the one who listens to and asks about her, and he doesn’t complain about her running off all the time. My grandfather might not be as quiet as Annie’s, but I like the way he is frank and up front and understands that when I do something embarrassing or the wrong way, it really is wrong and laughs about it good-naturedly rather than trying to cover it up. He also listens to me and continues an interesting discussion on things I bring up. He is full of practical wisdom for creating and fixing things, just like Annie’s grandpa is a good woodworker.
Miss Eliza says that books are “medicine for my soul” and that “once I could read, that made all the difference” during her loneliest years. I share her love for the world of books. Not only can they be a diversion in times of sorrow, but I am fascinated by how each of the myriad books out there leads you into a new world, a new way of looking at things.
I thoroughly enjoyed Road to Tater Hill and highly recommend it. It is a great read for anyone who shares my love of stories, character development, and the mountains!