M.C. Higgins, the Great review

M.C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1999. 978-0-689-83074-7

Synopsis: Mayo Cornelius, called M.C., Higgins, lives with his family in the mountains of the Ohio River valley. His family has lived on the mountain ever since his great-grandmother Sarah climbed the mountain with a baby in her arms looking to escape to freedom. Across a gully on Kill’s Mound live the Killburns, considered to be witchy by the Higgins, but this does not stop M.C. from striking up a friendship with Ben. M.C. likes to spend time on top of a large pole sitting in the middle of their yard and one day he sees two strangers coming up the mountain: one is a “dude” who records people singing and then sells the tapes to record companies; the other is a mysterious stranger that lives a different life than M.C. and his family. The two strangers each offer the Higgins a glimpse into a different life, a life they could live if they would give up their land and come off the mountain.

Why I picked it up: I wanted to read a story that did not feature rich, over-privileged white kids.

Why I finished it: On the surface the story is about a boy who wants to do what is best for his family. M.C. is clearly torn between family honor and a desire to do what he wants with his life. Since the family home has been passed down to the oldest son, M.C. is fated to stay on the mountain until he dies. Yet, his desire to get his family off the mountain and give them a better life grows and grows, even more so when he meets the man who would come to hear his mother sing. But it is also about the relationships young people have with their family, with their neighbors, with strangers, and how they cope with unexpected changes in their lives. Hamilton spends time developing the relationship between M.C. and his father, Jones, who is fated to work only when union workers are sick. Father and son both have different views about life on the mountain and what is best for the family, but the two have created an understanding with each other: Jones is the often intimidating head of the family who desires to have a connection with M.C. and his other children; M.C. is a teenage boy struggling with accepting his father’s authority and developing his own beliefs and values, namely that of being able to look out for his family. The book is thick, but the story is fast-paced and engaging, giving insight into the freedoms considered by those who haven’t thought them to be possible.

Other related materials: The Planet of Junior Brown by Virginia Hamilton; The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor; Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins; Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse; Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Birchbark House by Lousie Erdrich; Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata; The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox; Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates; Feathers by Jaqueline Woodson; Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

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