Thursday, May 21, 2009

Family Music: Jessie's Mountain by Kerry Madden

In the final volume of her Maggie Valley Trilogy, Kerrie Madden takes up her account of the Weems family of Maggie Valley, North Carolina, with twelve-year-old Olivia's own story.

Livy's dad Tom, a gifted songwriter and banjoist, has suffered a brain injury in a car accident on his way to perform on the Cas Walker Show in Knoxville. Tom's speech is halting, his memory is still cloudy, and the only music he can make are the songs he hears in the form of auditory hallucinations in his head. Mama Jessie is struggling to feed her ten children with her knitting crafts, sold at the nearby Ghost Town in the Sky theme park, and her domineering mother, Grandma Horace, has decreed that since the family can't pay the mortgage on their farm, they must move to her house in Enka, known to the family as Enka-Stinka Land for its proximity to smelly paper and textile mills.

Then inexplicably Grandma Horace gives Livy her mother Jessie's journal kept the year she was twelve, and Livy suddenly sees the bright, hopeful girl her weary mama once was. With her mother's abandoned dreams in mind, Livy Two sees her singing and songwriting talents as the family's only hope to keep them in their Maggie Valley home.

Determined to market her music to radio station WSM in Nashville, Livy saves her wages from her job with the local bookmobile and plans a quick trip to Music Row on the Trailways Bus. Stowing away in the back of Matthew the Mennonite's truck, Livy finds herself trailed by her bossy ten-year-old sister Jitters, who demands to go along on pain of tattling on her big sister. Livy reluctantly pays for her sister's bus ticket and the two make the 18-hour trip, only to be turned away by her hoped-for music agent, Mr. George Flowers. In Nashville the two encounter an old con man who steals Livy's guitar and a kindly barbecue stand owner, Moses from Memphis, who advises the girls to get back home to face the music with their distraught family.

Arriving home in an ice storm, Livy realizes that instead of saving her family, she has violated their trust. Things are even harder without her guitar to inspire new songs, but despite the loss of her instrument and her job with the bookmobile, Livy is energized by her daring and by the possibilities she saw in Music City. At last an idea comes which offers a way to ease her father back into performing in public and make enough income to keep her family out of Enka-Stinka and on their Maggie Valley farm. It takes the whole family-- Gentle's singing, Louise's paintings and murals, and even Jitter's persistent management skills--to bring Livy's plan into reality, but in the end Tom Weems takes the stage to combine his banjo with Livy's guitar before a receptive audience, and Jessie's Mountain Music Notes, named for Livy's mother, becomes Maggie Valley's newest attraction.

Kerrie Madden's Jessie's Mountain (Maggie Valley Novels),, like the two previous novels, Gentle's Holler (Maggie Valley Novels) and Louisiana's Song (Maggie Valley Novels), is filled with memorable characters--mean Uncle Buddy with his pet iguana, Grandma Horace with her varied-colored glass eyes, Livy's spirited and individualistic brothers and sisters, and even Madame Cherry Hat, the landlady whose threat to foreclose on their mortgage hangs over the Weems family like a rising mountain storm. The world of the 1964 community of Maggie Valley--with its untouched hollows, river-fouling mills, and roadside tourist stands--is already fading into the homogeneous blur of the I-40 corridor between Memphis and Greensboro, but Madden's portrait of a loving family with a strong sens of their place and their past but high hopes for the future rings sure and true.

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  • Thank you for these lovely reviews. I so appreciate it.

    Kerry Madden

    By Anonymous Kerry Madden, at 5:17 PM  

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