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Hope in The Holler

Review

Hope in The Holler

Wavie Conley didn’t know she had a family until the day of her mother’s funeral. While packing up her things to go home with this never-before-known aunt and cousin, she thinks to herself “Home. Mama’s home, a place she’d left behind and barely mentioned….The not of Mama kept growing.” Then she joins these new family members for the trip to Conley Hollow and whatever awaits her next.

That prediction sets up the plot (and the steps Wavie takes to find the truths her mother kept hidden) of HOPE IN THE HOLLER, the second novel from Lisa Lewis Tyre. For her 11 years, Wavie’s Mama is the only family she’s ever known. They live in a trailer park in Andro, Kentucky. They’re poor, but happy together. After Mama dies of cancer, Wavie expects that she’ll be put in a foster home and she has come to terms with that.

"The descriptions of poverty throughout the novel are stark and Tyre doesn’t stray from the reality....HOPE IN THE HOLLER shows the power a little piece of hope can have when in the right person…."

 

But then Samantha Rose appears at the funeral and those plans get upended. As far as villains go, Samantha Rose is right up there with Cruella DeVille and it is clear right from the start that she doesn’t care much about Wavie --- only the Social Security check that comes with her each month. Samantha Rose’s teenage son Hoyt isn’t much better, and her Uncle Philson has an illness from working in the coal mine that leaves him pretty checked out.

Upon coming up the mountain to her new home, the first thing Wavie notices is the trash and debris covering the property. The inside is even worse with weeks of dirty dishes piled in the kitchen sink and stains covering the furniture. Wavie is given a room, which turns out to have a quilt that Mama used to sleep under. There’s also photographs of Mama from her youth on the walls and more relatives Wavie never knew existed buried in a cemetery nearby, where Wavie begins planting flowers. Wavie starts to wonder about things that she didn’t need to know the answer to when had Mama: who her father was, why Mama left Conley Holler and why she never spoke of or to the family she left behind

Fortunately, Wavie doesn’t have to face these questions alone because she almost immediately makes two new friends who couldn’t be more different. There’s Gilbert, who loves spending time outdoors going for adventures, avoiding his schoolwork and hiding how smart he is. Then there’s Camille, who loves to study and helps teach Wavie how to be confident and encourages her to keep going after the family secrets she has only begun to discover.

There’s also the list of seven instructions that Mama left Wavie before she died, with one that she keeps coming back to, “Be brave,” Mama instructed. As Samantha Rose gets meaner and the hearing to grant her full custody of Wavie gets nearer, it’s something Wavie has to keep reminding herself to be. And boy does she follow through, once she realizes there might be a way to escape from Samantha Rose.

Tyre really knows how to create a villain. It’s clear from the start of the novel who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Wavie is an easy character to root for. She gets afraid, but she never gives up. She gets pushed around by Samantha Rose, but she pushes back. As Wavie uncovers details about Mama’s life, her memories of her become more complex but her devotion remains true. The secondary characters in the book are given good backstories and have their own battles to fight, but in the course of helping Wavie, they help each other. Wavie’s definition of “home” and “family” begin to grow. It might not just be her and Mama against the world anymore, but Wavie also realizes that she hasn’t been left to stand on her own.

The descriptions of poverty throughout the novel are stark and Tyre doesn’t stray from the reality of that. Gilbert’s mother is in prison. A coal mining accident killed more than a half-dozen miners years ago and Conley Hollow still bears those scars. Food insecurity and utilities turned off because bills aren’t paid are realities many of the characters face every day. Tyre is right to include these descriptions; in doing so, she opens up a world that readers might not be familiar with but that may be the reality for 11-year-olds like Wavie every day.

At the end of the novel, good prevails over evil, but there are still unanswered questions. The conclusion feels a bit rushed, which makes it more confusing, though the reader is more or less clued fully in by the end. While Wavie’s father family is mentioned as a catalyst early on in Wavie’s life, it’s not entirely clear what became of them or why they went away. For all the descriptions of Conley Hollow as tight-knit, it’s puzzling why this is never fully explained.

HOPE IN THE HOLLER shows the power a little piece of hope can have when in the right person, and when that person opens their hope to others. Wavie learns how to believe in herself and the good people that surround her. She is brave, just like Mama instructed her to be, and in doing so, she opens her life to experiences she never knew existed.

Reviewed by Liz Sauchelli on January 30, 2018

Hope in The Holler
by Lisa Lewis-Tyre