By: Donna Everhart
Publication Date: 12/26/2017
My Rating: 4 Stars
Set in the Carolinas in the 1940s, The Road to Bittersweet is a beautifully written, evocative account of a young woman reckoning not just with the unforgiving landscape, but with the rocky emotional terrain that leads from innocence to wisdom.
For fourteen-year-old Wallis Ann Stamper and her family, life in the Appalachian Mountains is simple and satisfying, though not for the tenderhearted. While her older sister, Laci—a mute, musically gifted savant—is constantly watched over and protected, Wallis Ann is as practical and sturdy as her name. When the Tuckasegee River bursts its banks, forcing them to flee in the middle of the night, those qualities save her life. But though her family is eventually reunited, the tragedy opens Wallis Ann’s eyes to a world beyond the creek that’s borne their name for generations.
Carrying what’s left of their possessions, the Stampers begin another perilous journey from their ruined home to the hill country of South Carolina. Wallis Ann’s blossoming friendship with Clayton, a high diving performer for a traveling show, sparks a new opportunity, and the family joins as a singing group. But Clayton’s attention to Laci drives a wedge between the two sisters. As jealousy and betrayal threaten to accomplish what hardship never could—divide the family for good—Wallis Ann makes a decision that will transform them all in unforeseeable ways . . .
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Donna Everhart takes readers to Stampers Creek, 1940 North Carolina along the Tuckasegee River with the Stampers family. THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET —a gritty Southern tale of despair, family, and hope. A perfect and fitting title for this coming-of-age journey through life's ups and downs from childhood to womanhood.
"It takes courage to find your way."
In the Appalachian mountains, near Cashiers, NC, we meet Wallis Ann.
Fourteen-years-old and wise beyond her years. She takes most of the burden caring for her sister, Laci. Her sister is two years older, yet she will never be able to read or write or solve problems. They all wondered what she must be thinking. There was also the younger brother, Seph; only three-years-old.
Laci is "savant." Gifted. A person affected with a mental disability (such as autism or mental retardation) who exhibits exceptional skill or brilliance in some limited field (such as mathematics or music).In this case, music. The family played music, known as The Stamper Family. From the piano, banjo, fiddle, among others.
There is a devastating flood after the waters broke over the dam. The worst this area had ever seen. Torrential rains. This event scared Wallis more than anything she had ever experienced. They are swept away by the strong currents.
After losing everything, the Papa takes them to his brother, Hardy in South Carolina. They are on the road trying to survive by singing for money to have enough to eat.
The momma depends on Wallis Ann for so much of Laci's care, and Laci experienced guilt from some of the events happening in the story. Wallis Ann feels somewhat invisible at times due to her sister's disability.
Along the way, there are more struggles, and challenges for survival amid life's storms. Burdens to carry. Hearts broken. Dreams unfulfilled. Guilt-ridden. Betrayal.
Heartstrings are pulled especially with Wallis Ann. She is brave, and resilient while suffering from hardships, hopelessness, and other situations and emotions she encounters. Deeply emotional a mix of Southern fiction/Gothic, coming-of-age, historical, and literary fiction.
“Windows give you a view. Otherwise you can't see nothing, no matter how hard you try. It ain't much different in how we look at our world from inside ourselves."
I enjoyed the theme of water which is apparent throughout the novel from the river, the flood, the waterfalls and symbolic in many ways to the peaceful trickle of water sliding over the rocks. On a side note: My favorite places in the NC mountains are the Highlands and Cashiers. Beautiful waterfalls and scenic mountains. I miss my log cabin in Big Canoe, GA.
The characters are well-drawn (as the secondary ones) and the times researched, drawing you into their world of survival and vivid settings.
"We're going to keep on having hope until there's no possibility of having it anymore. That's all we can do."
Descriptive storytelling, a well-written emotional Southern coming-of-age novel of family, heartbreak, love, loss, and acceptance.
For fans of Southern historical fiction and authors: Leah Weiss, Kim Michele Richardson, Wiley Cash, Emilie Richards, Diane Chamberlain, and David Joy.
A special thank you to Kensington for an advanced reading copy and the introduction to this talented North Carolina author. Look forward to reading more.
Dec Must Reads
SIBA Trio Pick for 2018!
“Readers will find The Road to Bittersweet to be a lovingly crafted coming-of-age novel set in the unforgiving Carolina hills. Everhart understands the mindset of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood as her world fills with hardship, betrayal, and the wonderment of growing up. Readers will be struck by how beautifully Everhart captures the dialect of her well-drawn characters and the landscape – both harsh and beautiful. Here is a story that tugs at the heartstrings with its believability and evocative prose, leaving readers believing there is always hope when a family stands together.”- RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
About the Author
Donna Everhart is a USA Today best selling author of THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE, an Amazon Best Book/Debut Spotlight, Indie Next Pick for November 2016 and long listed for the Southern Book Prize, (formerly the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize)
Her next novel, THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET, January 2018, is a Publisher’s Lunch Buzz Book for Fall/Winter 2017-2018 and a 2018 Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) Trio pick.
Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, she has lived close to her hometown for most of her life. For several years she worked for high tech companies, specializing in project management and product introduction. She carries a Bachelor of Science in Business Management. She lives in Dunn, North Carolina with her husband, Blaine, and a tiny, heart stealing Yorkshire terrier, named Mister.
She is a member of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, and Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Read More