Review by Booklist Review
Polly's untimely death in 1891, and the ballad describing it, will be a talisman that haunts generations of her ancestors. Pearl struggles with a difficult pregnancy and no medical care in 1907; Frieda faces prejudice as the Black daughter of a married white man in 1937; in 1974, Sara longs for freedom but is tied down by family obligations. Throughout the twisting turns of 120 years of the family line, the story stays grounded in the landscape, Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains. The traditional mountain ballads keep the legend of Pretty Polly's murder at Laurel Springs at the center of this story. Written in the first-person, each chapter has a different female narrator who gives the reader a diary-like experience of her innermost thoughts and personal experiences. With a sense of traveling through time, readers will enjoy the murder mystery, combined with the descriptions of daily life in this little Appalachian town. Fans of The Giver of Stars (2019), by Jojo Moyes, and historical fiction with strong female characters will want to give this book a try.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Beard follows The Atomic City Girls with an intriguing multigenerational saga of a family steeped in the old-time songs and stories of southern Appalachia. The novel, which traces the lives of nine female relatives over generations in the mountains of Tennessee, unfolds through linked chapters titled after ballads that touch on their lives, among them "Little Sparrow" and "The Wayfaring Stranger." It starts with Grace Caton, age 10 in 2019, who writes a school project about an ancestor who killed somebody long ago at Laurel Springs, made infamous, says her family, by the murder ballad "Pretty Polly." Then the story moves back to 1907 with her ancestor Pearl Whaley, a mountain woman who believes her long-dead sister Polly haunts the spot in the mountains where she was murdered. Pearl is visited in the remote village by a songcatcher, who records the ballads and folk songs she sings. Subsequent decades follow with more ghost stories from Pearl's relatives, tinged with regret and loss, informed by the timeless lyricism of the songs, and culminating with a poignant revelation about Grace's immediate family. This inspired story of Appalachian folklore will move readers. Agent: Rayhane Sanders, Massie & McQuilken. (Oct.)
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