Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review: A Land More Kind Than Home

Summary: A stunning debut reminiscent of the beloved novels of John Hart and Tom Franklin, A Land More Kind Than Home is a mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small western North Carolina town 

For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can't help sneaking a look at something he's not supposed to—an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess's. It's a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he's not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well. 

Told by three resonant and evocative characters—Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past—A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all. These are masterful portrayals, written with assurance and truth, and they show us the extraordinary promise of this remarkable first novel. -- William Morrow

Ever since Kathy (aka BermudaOnion) met author Wiley Cash at last year's SIBA, she has been telling me what a great guy he is. She also mentioned that his debut  novel A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME sounded like a good one. I am a HUGE fan of Southern fiction -- maybe it's because I grew up in the South; and I am always on the search for quality books that also capture the essence of the South. Let me just tell you that A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME is most definitely a winner on both fronts. I just loved this novel and it exceeded all of my expectations!

It's a little difficult for me to capture everything that occurs in A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME in just a few sentences. At its simplest, this novel tells the story of a tragedy that occurs in a small western North Carolina town. It explores the universal conflict of good versus evil, and it is extremely well written. Enough said? I picked up this novel not knowing much of anything about it (I'm not even sure I read the back cover), and I just allowed myself to get caught up in the story. It worked for me, and I think this approach just might be the best way to appreciate this story.

Having said that, I do want to share some of the wonderful things that struck me about A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME... without giving too much away. The story is told by three very different narrators --  Jess, a young boy who is forced to grow up way too fast after he sees a few incidents that weren't meant for his eyes; Adelaide, the town midwife who did her best to protect the town's children; and Clem, the town's sheriff. Usually when I read a book that alternates between different character's voices, I find that one of them resonates with me more (or is frankly just more believable) than the others; however, in the case of A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME, that wasn't the case. Each character was extremely well developed, and their voices were so authentic. I think that's a huge credit to the author's writing skills.

And that brings me to my next point. Mr. Cash is a seriously talented writer. Not only did he create some amazing characters in the narrators (and capture their voices effectively), but he also made the secondary characters in the story to be very complex and believable as well. Jess's parents were extremely interesting and so well developed, and don't even get me started on how real (and scary) the pastor character was. Looking back at this novel, I can honestly say that every character (even the minor ones) provided something of value to the story.

In addition, I loved how Mr. Cash brought the small mountain town setting to life. Mr. Cash wrote about what he was familiar with and it was evident to me as a reader. His descriptions of the town and its inhabitants rang with authenticity. I thought he did an amazing job of capturing not only the look and feel of this town, but also the way of life of the people. And by that, I mean their culture and especially their religious beliefs. I admit that I was fascinated by some of the practices and beliefs of the church's congregation, and I loved how this book explored faith and salvation.

There were just so many things about A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME that made me think and feel, and I truly believe that's what makes a book so special -- when it can affect me like this novel did. So many of the themes that were explored in the pages of this book are ones that resonate with me like faith, family, love, forgiveness, and redemption; however, it also does a wonderful job of bringing to light the constant battle between good and evil in our world. I finished this book days ago and I'm still thinking about it!

As a result, I am suggesting that you consider A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME for your next book club meeting. Trust me on this -- it's perfect for all types of book groups because there are so many universal themes. There is a reading guide available, but I'm not sure you'll need it. Some of the topics you might want to discuss include faith/religion, revenge, love, secrets, courage, good vs. evil, guilt, salvation, forgiveness, and redemption. There are also many other things to explore including symbolism, character development, the title, and the use of setting.

On one hand, I feel like I've gushed about this book for quite a few paragraphs; but on the other hand, I think I've only touched the tip of the iceberg with just how well done this story was. I sincerely hope I was able to express how much I adored A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME. It is a beautifully written story with some memorable characters, and I am recommending it to everyone (and I mean everyone!) I know.

Thanks to the publisher (and author) for providing a review copy of this novel.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

Everyone sure has been gushing about this one!

Serena said...

Sounds like a good book. Glad you enjoyed it.

Karlie said...

Wow! That review definitely makes me want to read this book.

Beth F said...

I skipped to the end of your review to see if you liked it. Well, yes, you did! I have it on my list. Maybe this coming week.

bermudaonion said...

I've been trying to hold off reading this one until just before Wiley's event here so it would be fresh in my mind, but I'm not sure how much longer I can wait. This sounds like a book I'll love!!

Jenn's Bookshelves said...

Fantastic review. I'm definitely adding this one to my book club's cue of book club selections.

Alyce said...

I saw an interview with him about this book in today's Shelf Awareness newsletter, so that put the book on my radar. Great review! I can definitely tell you enjoyed it.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Well, isn't this just a love fest going on this week for his book!? This was definitely a book that you couldn't put down. I loved everything about it. Jackie from Farm Lane Books said she would have liked to have gotten the perspective from someone (Chambliss?) in the congregation, which I guess would have been interesting. At the same time, it was a whole lot of fun hating this guy and keeping him snugly in the evil category.