Coal River by Ellen Marie Wiseman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed Coal River. I have read previous books from this author, and her stories are full of hardship and heartaches and this book was no exception. The central character Emma endures unfathomable struggles, first watching her younger brother die in the river as a young girl, then having her parents die in a fire as a young woman, which leaves her only option to return to Coal River and live with her Aunt & Uncle. Emma is horrified by the conditions in the town for the mining families, especially the rampant abuse of children as mine laborers. She quickly discovers that in a coal town, the mining company has all the power. Emma tries to help the mining families, but her actions lead to disaster. The plight of coal miners is a subject that has been written about by many authors, but this book focuses on the specific issue of child labor through Emma's fascination with the 'breaker boys' who work in dangerous conditions, without any safety equipment, and often get hurt or even killed by the large machinery. The characters are well developed and the author has done a wonderful job of making the reader feel empathy toward Emma and her fight to help the breaker boys and coal families. At times the descriptions of the scenery do get lengthy but overall the book is well written and the story moves along at a fast pace. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
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