The Hollow Ground

  • by Natalie S. Harnett
  • Narrated by Luci Christian
  • 10 hrs and 32 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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.

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What the Critics Say

“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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Disfunction makes a good read

Book review: The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett

Caveat: I'm not a reviewer, I have no experience at this. I actually won this book in a giveaway and was stunned by what I ended up listening to. (I won an audiobook version.)

To start, this isn't a book I believed I'd have interest in. A slice of life story of a young girl growing up in central Pennsylvania during the coal fires mid-20th Century. The subject and style of story are completely different than my normal reading material, which largely consist of Sci-Fi, history and military literature.

That said, this book sucks you in with the honest, bare, and real feeling of being there. The main character is honest and written as a real child in hard times, not a genius, not precocious, just a living feeling person suffering with the difficulties of living a destitute existence while enduring a broken family and the constant prospect of the mine fires taking her loved ones or home at any moment.

The story winds through the growth of this girl, from young child to young adult. It covers a variety of realities with ease, from the mine fires, to family dynamics, to homelessness, racism, alcoholism, abuse and abandonment.

The characters are written as real people, a hard thing to do with any work of fiction, but in this, they are exactly the type of people I spent my youth surrounded by. Entitled poor white trash that believes everyone owes them something, with the bullheaded pride of those not smart enough to know their own limitations and instead believe that their failures are the fault of an outside source, be that God, other people, the government or a family curse. The mother, especially embodies this, I literally wanted to smack the woman at times, seeing in her all of the worst flaws I recognize from many of my peers and their parents when I was a youth.

I can't recommend this book enough to anyone wanting a slow-paced, generally uplifting read with real insight into the human condition.
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- NHull

Hollow tale

Wow - I wish Audible had classified this for what it really is - a "young adult" book. I always try to finish what I start, but this was tough. Not a great story for me but maybe for someone about 14.
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- Laurie

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-13-2014
  • Publisher: Audible Studios