Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book Review: Prodigal Summer

I've noticed that books are all over some of my favorite blogs this summer, from requests for good reads to suggestions of great books and reviews. In that vein, I thought I'd start reviewing the books I read, just for fun! The closest thing I've ever written to a book review is a book report, so please don't expect NYT quality here! I just wanted to share my thoughts on my latest finds, so maybe if you're looking for a new novel to get lost in, you might look here!


Prodigal Summer, written by Barbara Kingsolver (also author of The Poisonwood Bible) was published in 2000. The story takes place in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky, and follows three interwoven stories.

Deanna is a park ranger who feels a strong ownership of the mountain she has called home for the past two years. Her only interactions are with the flora and fauna of the forest and the park service worker who brings up her monthly provisions. Her summer (and life) is turned upside down when the coyote bounty hunter Eddie Bondo shows up on her mountain.

Lusa is a city girl (from Lexington) who married into an old mountain farming family. She is widowed after only one year, and is left trying to feel out her role in her new, large, opinionated family: trying to run a farm and deal with her fresh grief while figuring out if Egg Creek is really where she belongs.

Garnett is an old man--in his late 70s--working hard to bring the majestic American Chestnut back to life in the region. Nannie Rawley is his neighbor and the perpetual thorn in his side: always there and terribly non-traditional.

The three stories are intimately intertwined, though it takes most of the novel for the reader to figure out how. I loved this book for a lot of reasons: I'm from this area of the country. In the summer, it's beautiful, hot, humid and full of more wildlife and plant life than any of us acknowledge. I loved reading about all of the different animals and plants on Deanna's mountain. She has an intimate knowledge of their comings and goings, habits and hang-ups. I also enjoyed Kingsolver's explanations of the harms of pesticides and herbicides (often through Nannie Rawley, but also through Lusa). I didn't think these parts of the novel were "preachy," but I've read other reviews that have said that. Also, the relationships among characters were complicated and real.

This is the second time I had started this book. I picked it up a couple of summers ago, got about half-way through and put it down. I'm not really sure why I put it down the first time, but I will say that the second half of this book went much faster than the first. I'm not sure if this is because I'd already read the first half before, or if it just took me that long to fall in love with the characters.

A few caveats: as a newlywed (who just celebrated my first anniversary), Lusa's story was very difficult for me to read at times. I'm already a bit anxiety-prone, with my mind occasionally running away from me with worst-case scenarios, so reading about her tragedy, especially because I, too, have only been married a year, was tough for me. Chances are, I'm just a big weirdo and I identify too closely with fictional characters, but there you go.

Second: there's a couple of rather descriptive sex scenes. I was a bit surprised when I was just a few pages into it and I was already reading about a tryst. It's certainly no harlequin romance, but I feel like it's a reasonable warning to make if you are thinking about reading this book (or giving it to a preteen who loves bugs!)

Overall Rating:


Have you read Prodigal Summer? What did you think about it?

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1 comment:

Mama Pea said...

Hi Ashley (thanks for stopping by my blog by the way!) I agree with your review and your 4/5 stars. If you liked Prodigal Summer you might like Barbara Kingsolver's "The Bean Trees," and "Pigs in Heaven" - they are just as good but less heavy compared to Prodigal Summer and Poisonwood Bible - and no trysts! :)