Billy Creekmore by Tracey Porter

A few years ago, I would regularly come home from the library with a nice stack of books to read.  I haven't had that pleasure in awhile, and though I don't like this reality, there is a good reason.  The good reason is that I already own too many unread books.  Most avid readers (and book bloggers) talk about their beloved To-Be-Read (TBR) shelves as a permanent fixture in their homes.  I like having so many wonderful books, but I would really like to do away with my TBR shelves (and yes, that is plural!).  So, a few years ago, I stopped borrowing books from the library and ceased with PaperbackSwap and their ilk in an effort to reduce the numbers of TBRs lingering in my home.  Before we moved, I even took a few unread TBRs to the used bookstore.  Yet, I kept buying books.  The unbelievable used finds and the $4 table at the conference proved too difficult for me to resist.  So, I remain swamped with TBRs, and thus, I have a desire kindling in me to go on a book-buying fast, so watch for signs of such a decision.  For now, though, I will keep plugging away at my TBRs and look forward to the days when I can freely peruse the library stacks and come home with a fresh pile of borrowed TBRs.

All that neglect of the library went out the window a few weeks ago, though, when I was browsing the kids' section with my children and found Billy Creekmore by Tracey Porter.  I love YA novels.  Some of my favorite books of all time were written for young people.  I also have a particular interest in Appalachian literature and the coal mining industry.  So, Billy Creekmore was an automatic fit for me.  Billy is ostensibly an orphan, living at the Guardian Angels Home for Boys, at the novel's opening.  From there, he goes to WV where he gets folded into the coal mining community and the UMW struggle.  When he is run out of town by the mine operator's gun thugs, he joins up with the circus. There are the requisite struggles along the way, and the ending is appropriately feel-good without being too schmaltzy, so overall it was a successful read.

I can't say it moved or changed me much though some of that stasis could come from my existing familiarity with the subject matter.  I remember the first time I read a novel that exposed the realities of the coal mining industry and the United Mine Workers to me, and it did change me (thank you, Denise Giardina).  This book, while it doesn't focus exclusively on coal mining, provides a basic first taste of the inhumanities of the industry, especially during the time when the UMW was attempting to organize.  It remains an incredibly difficult way to live and work, but before unionization, miners and their families had literally no standing to demand better conditions.  For a YA novel, it handles some difficult subject matter, but everything does these days, and honestly, I'd rather my young people encounter such challenges as injustice and inequality than the more cliched sex and drugs. 

The parts about the circus were not as interesting to me, not as finely drawn.  They felt rather tacked on, a vehicle by which Billy could once again experience family.  But as a means to this end, it worked better for me than some unrealistic happy reunion with his long-absent father.  I appreciated the complexity of emotions that Billy experienced through the final chapters; it was in keeping with the rest of the novel.  And though I didn't always care for the dialect employed (isn't dialect usually more a distraction than a contribution to the novel?), Billy's character was a likable narrator with a unique story to tell. 

Now, enough with the kid stuff - I've got William Carlos Williams to finish tonight and unstructured book group tomorrow.  Plus, classes?  How's a girl expected to get it all done when pesky work gets in the way?


  1. Huh, I was not aware that there existed a body of YA lit about the United Mine Workers' struggles! I read a bio of Mother Jones pretty recently & some of those details are still pretty fresh in my mind - amazing fodder for fiction, definitely. Will look forward to your thoughts on the Williams. :-)

  2. You raised an interesting point that alot of literature these days covers the tough stuff. I wonder why that is? has 'reality' television been changing what people want too see - more reality and less of the holywood??

  3. Emily - I'm not sure you could call it a body of work, but there are a few good options out there. Denise Giardina's Storming Heaven and The Unquiet Earth were not written with a young audience in mind, but they are accessible to teens. Billy Creekmore is a true young person's book that manages to handle the subject through a child's perspective. The subject is definitely a passion of mine, and you are right: amazing material, amazing stories, amazing people.

    Tamara - I think our young people are definitely overexposed these days - to all sorts of things. The problem with these so-called reality programs is that they provide a version of reality I don't want to be real to my family. At least with Dawson's Creek and the like, you could claim fiction.