Wednesday, January 20, 2016

M.C. Higgins the Great by Virginia Hamilton

M.C. Higgins the Great3 out of 5 Robots!

M.C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton
Genre: Middle Grade
Release: August 1, 1974
Hardcover: 278 Pages
Publisher: Originally Published by MacMillan
My Copy: Purchased
Reviewer: Shannon

Book Summary:
M.C.'s family is rooted to the slopes of Sarah's Mountain. His great-grandmother escaped to the mountain as a runaway slave and made it her home. It bears her name, and her descendants have lived there ever since. 
When M.C. looks out from atop the gleaming forty-foot pole that his father planted in the mountain for him -- a gift for swimming the Ohio River -- he sees only the rolling hills and shady valleys that stretch out for miles in front of him. 
And M.C. knows why his father never wants his family to leave. 
But when M.C. looks behind, he sees only the massive remains of strip mining -- a gigantic heap of dirt and debris perched threateningly on a cliff above his home. 
And M.C. knows they cannot stay. 
So when two strangers arrive in the hills, one bringing the promise of fame in the world beyond the mountains and the other the revelation that choice and action both lie within his grasp, M.C.'s life is changed -- forever. 
In 1974, Virginia Hamilton dazzled the world with her powerful account of a young man's coming of age trapped between heritage of his mountain home and his desires for the future. Twenty-five years later, M.C. Higgins, the Great remains the only novel ever to win the Newbery Medal, the National Book Award, and the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award. 
It is truly an American classic

(Courtesy of the Publisher - From the Simon and Schuster for Young Reader's 1999 edition)

Shannon's Thoughts:
I have to say, I am glad I never had to read this book as a kid.  I'm pretty sure I would have been bored out of my mind.  I don't necessarily need a book to be flashy, or have a ton of action.  But, for me, it needs to be somewhat relatable and I think this is where this book fails a bit for me.  

I did enjoy the descriptions of Sarah's Mountain and the hill people.  The sense of place was the strongest part of the book.  I could really feel how much the family homestead meant to M.C. and his family.  It wasn't just a home.  It was their heritage, their legacy.  M.C. is as much as part of the mountain as it is a part of him.  

 But, M.C. feels the family needs to leave their homestead and pins his hopes and dreams on "the dude" who is coming to record his mother's voice.  He believes the dude will make his mother famous and take them away.  M.C.'s naivety almost hurts (especially from an adult standpoint).  I mostly kept thinking "oh, child..." because you know exactly how it is going to turn out.  

M.C. is also good friends with Ben, a boy from another hill people family.  Ben's family lives in a vegetarian commune and they all have red hair and six fingers.  Ben's family is treated with suspicion for their "witchy" ways and M.C. has to keep his friendship a secret.  There is a good "coming of age" lesson here on accepting differences that happens at the end of the book.

But there is also a lot that I found uninteresting and even troubling, at times.  First, not much happens.  There is a lot of little threads all over the place that could be interesting, but are never fully fleshed out.  The two most troubling parts involve M.C.'s father and Lurhetta.  M.C. and his father have a contentious relationship.  When they rough house, it becomes almost violent.  It is uncomfortable to read.  But I was most concerned about M.C. and Lurhetta's interactions.  Lurhetta is a slightly older girl who is backpacking on Sarah's Mountain.  M.C. basically stalks her and tries to kiss her while she is sleeping.  They tussle and he cuts her with his knife because he is afraid she will hit him with her flashlight.  Well, M.C., you did assault her.  It was quite perturbing because it was never really resolved.  They become friends of sort, but M.C. is never taken to task for his actions.  

Overall, not my favorite Newbery Award book.  Luckily, it was short.  Ha, ha!

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