Coal River

A book centered around Pennsylvania’s mining operations in the early 20th century, this is a powerhouse of a novel by one of my favourite authors Ellen Marie Wiseman.

Emma Malloy moved from Coal River Pennsylvania as a young girl. She had vowed to never return. But, as life does, it threw Emma some curveballs, and she is now alone, and very poor. With no other options available to her, she reluctantly returns to Coal River at the behest of her Aunt and Uncle. What she returns to is mistreatment at the hands of her relatives. Forced to work for free in the local store, she discovers that the local miners are forced to pay for food, clothing, and other basic necessities at inflated prices. Those who can not afford these items, or who owe money to the store are turned away to perish.

While each person pulls at Emma’s heart, there are none who cause her more sadness than the breaker boys. These are children who work in the coal mines sorting while dodging dangerous machinery, tyrannical employers, and those in the village that find them less than. Their likeness to her little brother tears at Emma’s heart strings, and she begins to leave food on the doorsteps of miner’s homes in the village. She furthers this by marking each bill as paid in full.

As you can imagine this makes both the owner of the mine and the captain of the local police force very angry. And when they try to stop her, she finds friends and allies in the local miners who are fed up with the extortion of the mining company.

Set against the backdrop of the abject poverty in many rural states this story speaks to the human spirit that often emerges when witnessing atrocities committed by greed and ego.

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