The John Gardner Fiction Book Award, 2015
Appalachian Book of the Year (Fiction), 2014
Longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award
"We walk on fire or air, so Daddy liked to say. Basement floors too hot to touch. Steaming green lawns in the dead of winter. Sinkholes, quick and sudden, plunging open at your feet."
The underground mine fires ravaging Pennsylvania coal country have forced 11-year-old Brigid Howley and her family to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents, the formidable Gram and the black lung-stricken Gramp. Tragedy is no stranger to the Howleys, a proud Irish-American clan who takes strange pleasure in the "curse" laid upon them generations earlier by a priest who ran afoul of the Molly Maguires. The weight of this legacy rests heavily on a new generation, when Brigid, already struggling to keep her family together, makes a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft. In the aftermath, decades-old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet.
Inspired by real-life events in Centralia and Carbondale, where devastating coal mine fires irrevocably changed the lives of residents, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place. Lovers of literary fiction will find in Harnett's young, determined protagonist a character as heartbreakingly captivating as Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.
“Harnett’s deeply atmospheric historical novel of the harsh old mining life captures the despair of a family at the mercy of the earth’s elements and their own worst impulses.” (Booklist)
“Brigid is no ordinary hard-luck heroine; her voice rings true, offering a matter-of-fact telling that never falls into self-pity or melodrama. Set against the 1960s Pennsylvania coal mine fires, this debut novel is a dark and rewarding read.” (Library Journal)
"Narrator Luci Christian's youthful charisma provides a natural portrayal of preteen Brigid Howley, who is struggling with family secrets in a poverty-stricken coal town in the 1960s. Christian's clear, delicate voice belies the girl's impoverished upbringing and poor education--but does depict Brigid's naïve hopefulness amid her family's wretched circumstances." (AudioFile)
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Disfunction makes a good read
The Hollow Ground was a poignant tale of heartach
Five reasons to grab your ear-buds and take a walk with The Hollow Ground:
1. Harnett realistically captures this small mining town and the horrific horrors they deal with from nightly checked for gas levels to a down turned economy devastated by the fires and the fleeing of townsfolk. She takes us into the dysfunctional home of eleven-year-old Brigid Howley an Irish-American family with secrets and hardship. The story is atmospheric, character driven and beautifully captures this period.
2. The story unfolds through Brigid Howley’s perspective as she narrators events, shares her family curse and reasons out the behavior of her family. She is a curious mixture of childlike innocents and wisdom beyond her years. Her voice is incredibly realistic and heartfelt. Readers will fall in love with Brigid, and her voice will engrain itself forever in your mind. Reviewers have likened her to Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and I whole-heartily agree.
3. Harnett captures the raw emotions of this family exposing their secrets and daily struggles. She adds moments of light into this bleak world. Family can tear each other down and lift each other up like nobody’s business, and we gain an insider’s perspective that is real and raw through the eyes of this child. The tale was captivating and realistically portrayed.
4. The secondary characters had depth as Harnett held nothing back. Brigid’s parents were complicated, frustrating, and damaged. Harnett gave them powerful voices even when they said nothing. As the reader they stunned me, made me angry and yet Harnett allowed me to feel sympathy and gain understanding. Gram was an ornery hoot, who holds grudges, will not listen to reason and loves with a ferocious intensity. I both scorned and adored her.
5. The Hollow Ground is an atmospheric tale that will stay with you as will Brigid’s voice. Add this to your reading list if you enjoy tales inspired by actual events, learning about American history and delving into the dynamics of the dysfunctional families. Luci Christian the narrator did an excellent job of bringing Brigid and her family to life. Each character was easily recognizable and their emotions evident in her voice.