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The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

By: Christopher Scotton

Publisher: Hachette Trade

Imprint: Grand Central

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9781455551927

Other Formats:

Trade Paperback | Mass Market/Rack

On Sale: | Pages: 480

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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.
Having just plowed through “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth,” it's easy to understand all the (well-deserved) fuss. With its hardscrabble setting and cast of burdened characters hemmed in by seemingly insurmountable circumstances, the violent and wonderfully tender novel speaks not only to a bevy of America's centuries-old troubles — the destruction of our natural environment, pervasive unemployment and economic inequality, endemic racism and prejudice — but also to our frustrated yet ardent attempts at fixing them.... At nearly 500 pages, “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” is full of gorgeously rendered, intricately interwoven story threads (a few too many to spoil here, though Kevin's multiday camping and fishing trek into the hollow and over the mountains that culminates in a death-defying rescue is downright riveting). But it's Scotton's clear love of and respect for his subject — and his refusal to rely on cliches when describing Appalachia's humble people, their trials or their successes — that makes the novel so surprisingly uplifting at times, and profoundly rewarding.
—San Francisco Chronicle
Scotton is a natural storyteller with a terrific knack for visiting trouble upon his characters and pushing them into confrontation. He is not afraid to play a scene out to violent ends, and because Kevin and others go through fire, they change and grow. Not a page goes by without a threat, a promise, an action or a reckoning. The political, economic and moral dilemma of the mines that giveth and taketh away is expertly woven into the story.... Most readers will be swept up in the stream of events, moved by Kevin's situation and charmed by his pluck. Some might find, as I did, that the story is old-fashioned to a fault.... Although the plot keeps building, it's safe to predict that the good will prevail and the wicked will get their comeuppance. “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” delivers on the tried and true while resisting that further challenge: the nuanced and new.
—Washington Post
Readers coming to Christopher Scotton's first novel, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, leery of the hype that's surrounded its publication, or wary of its admittedly pretentious title, or perhaps just plain weary of "holler" fiction that attaches some mysterious moral superiority to growing up dirt-poor in Appalachia, can set aside their apprehensions and settle in for one of the best novels they're likely to read in months – and the most startlingly assured debut since last year's "Fourth of July Creek" by Smith Henderson.... Scotton brings his many plot-strands together in a concluding 40 pages that will absolutely rivet his readers with an virtuoso combination of uplift and heartbreak. Writing careers don't begin any more promising than this.
—Christian Science Monitor
The first half of “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” moves with the leisurely pace of summer, but the second half is a page turner featuring masculine challenges, bloodshed and stoic survival. Some of the challenges Kevin and Buzzy encounter strain credulity, but they edge us toward myth, stretching for something larger than verisimilitude. Scotton's prose is colloquial and evocative; the descriptions are sharp, the voice down-to-earth.... What he 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.
—New York Times
Christopher Scotton's solid, sometimes soaring debut novel, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, gives off a macho vibe — miners in a dying Appalachian coal town, crossbow pistols, raft building. But the author also plumbs the emotions that propel Kevin, a grief-stricken, guilt-ridden teen, to heroic heights.... A few of the main characters lack nuance, and some of the multiple plot points are more successful than others. But The Secret Wisdom of the Earth lovingly depicts a time and a place, and is a big, old-fashioned yarn well worth the telling.
—USA Today
It's difficult to predict such things, but my gut feeling as I sit here in (very) early January is that THE SECRET WISDOM OF THE EARTH is going to be on a number of “Best of the Year” lists 12 months from now.... Scotton labored over his book for over 15 years and has created a quiet masterpiece that I daresay will be read and remembered years from now. It's not a race, but, as this impressive debut novel demonstrates, slow and steady wins it.
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