Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Review: Unto These Hills

Southern writer Emily Sue Harvey sets her latest novel Unto These Hills in a South Carolina town called Tucapau Mill Hill, where the once prominent mill businesses have slowly gone away over the decades. The fictional story centers on Sunny Acklin and follows her life from her teenaged years into late adulthood. Through her narrative, Sunny tells about the joys and celebrations as well as the trials and tribulations that she, her family and her friends experience.

The town in the book is based on the actual town named Startex located in Spartanburg County in South Carolina where the real-life Tucapau Mill ran from the mid-1800's through 1930. I would venture to guess some of the incidents and characters in the book were inspired by real-life events.

I reviewed another work entitled Space (click here for that review) by this author a few months back. While both books deal with dramatic family circumstances from the perspective of a female protagonist and told via snapshot scenes as the years progress, they do differ a bit.

Since things are told from Sunny's point of view, it is clearly her story. And she has a lot to deal with that is interesting: growing up in a broken home, finding and losing her first love, marrying someone she had no feelings for, etc.

I felt that the story and I were getting distracted by everyone else's drama. Unto These Hills reminded more of the ongoing soap operas I watched as a teen and during college. For every positive in someone's life that got noted, it seemed a negative showed up to balance the scales. This book mentions many instances of infidelity, abandonment, betrayal, rape, and dishonesty. I have no problem with a story focusing on any of these topics; they all can make for some interesting character development and dramatic situations.

My problem with this book is that there are so many character stories just thrown out there in conversational manner, as if they were gossip told from the back fence. While I see potential there, many of these come off to me as very two-dimensional and quickly forgettable. Because everything is seen through Sunny's eyes and mind, I never fully understood what drives each of these second and third tier characters. I could only draw conclusions by what they said and how Sunny interpreted it. And I felt her interpretation was too skewed by her own life experiences.

Perhaps the real problem is that I am not in the target audience for a book like this; I am not always very emotionally deep and really need a story that has engaging action and/or very clear character evolution. Someone who enjoys family dramas, inspirational tales or even Chicken Soup For the ... Soul type books might better enjoy this novel.

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