On Snowden Mountain
Jeri Watts, Author
Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019
Suitable for Ages: 8-12
Themes: Mental illness, Separation, WW ll, Abuse, Mountain community, Friendship
Ellen’s mother has struggled with depression before, but not like this. With her father away fighting in World War II and her mother unable to care for them, Ellen’s only option is to reach out to her cold, distant Aunt Pearl. Soon enough, city-dwelling Ellen and her mother are shepherded off to the countryside to Aunt Pearl’s home, a tidy white cottage at the base of Snowden Mountain.
Adjusting to life in a small town is no easy thing: the school has one room, one of her classmates smells of skunks, and members of the community seem to whisper about Ellen’s family. She worries that depression is a family curse to which she’ll inevitably succumb, Ellen slowly begins to carve out a space for herself and her mother on Snowden Mountain in this thoughtful, heartfelt middle-grade novel.
Why I like this book:
Jeri Watts has written a richly textured story with a heartwarming narrative about the bond of family, community and their connection to each other. I meandered my way through this story which culminated in a satisfying ending that left me feeling hopeful for Ellen, her family and friends.
The characters are colorful. Ellen is resilient even though her mother is lost to a spell of deep sadness within and her father overseas serving his country. This Baltimore city girl has a lot to get used to living with lively Aunt Pearl — no indoor plumbing, no electricity and outhouses. Aunt Pearl is a strong woman who speaks her mind. She is stern on the outside and creates a safe space (with structure and hard work) for Ellen, but on the inside she is a generous soul. Ellen develops a friendship with a creative and sensitive boy, Russell Armentrout (Skunk Boy) can’t read or write because he is forced to trap skunks by his drunk and abusive father. Russell teaches Ellen about the nature around her and the special traits of animals. Ellen teaches him to read and count. She also meets other memorable characters who impact her life like Moselle Toms, the town gossip and troublemaker and Miss Spencer, the school teacher.
Watts introduces the reader to some heavy topics: parental separation, mental illness (depression and bipolar disorders), alcoholism, physical and emotional abuse (both child and spousal). Both Ellen and Russell form a bond as they confront the issues of their parents. These are timely and important issues that many readers will easily identify with. This is an excellent discussion book for students.
She was right. It was “very different” from Baltimore. There were no streetlights, so velvet darkness wrapped around us that night — a dark of such depth I felt it cloaking me so tightly that I was strangling in it. So soft, so smooth — and yet so deep as to swallow you.”
*Review copy provided by the publisher.