M. C. Higgins, the Great, by Virginia Hamilton, was published in 1974 by Simon & Schuster.
M. C.’s family is rooted to the slopes of Sarah’s Mountain. His great-grandmother escaped to the mountain as a runaway slave, and made it her home. It bears her name, and her descendants have lived there ever since. When M.C. looks out from atop the gleaming forty-foot pole that his father planted in the mountain for him—a gift for swimming the Ohio River—he sees only the rolling hills and shady valleys that stretch out for miles in front of him. And M. C. knows why his father never wants his family to leave. But when M.C. looks behind, he sees only the massive remains of strip mining—a gigantic heap of dirt and debris perched threatening on a cliff above his home. And M.C. knows they cannot stay. So when two strangers arrive in the hills, one bringing the promise of fame in the world beyond the mountains and the other the revelation that choice and action both lies within his grasp, M.C’s life is changed—forever.
I struggled to get engaged with M. C. Higgins, the Great. Very little actually happens, and the book has an almost sleepy tone to it, yet also a deceptively menacing tone, as well. I say “deceptive” because I kept expecting a dead body to show up, what with all the talk of gullies, tired people, and the feeling of dreadful anticipation that hovers over the events of the book.
The book takes place over about three days of M. C.’s life, and I suppose is a good glance at a “day in the life” of a teenage boy who is worried about the spill heap threatening his home and fascinated by the strange girl that shows up and turns his world, briefly, upside-down. There’s some neighbor conflict, with the strange, possibly inbred Killburn family, but the overall conflict is clearly the danger on the mountain.
I could tell, while reading, how Hamilton conveys the threat of strip mining to people’s lives and homes while also emphasizing the family bonds that keep people in one place, regardless of danger. Yet, even though I could see it, the book didn’t make me feel it. I was monstrously bored throughout, and the agonizingly slow pace made it difficult for me to want to continue reading it.
I can see why M. C. Higgins, the Great, won the Newbery Medal. I can see why it’s considered a great book. However, I didn’t like it. It was slightly too all-over-the-place for me, but the biggest thing was simply that the book didn’t interest me. I also thought the ending was a little strange, in that I have no idea why M. C. thinks his solution would actually work. A great book, but not my cup of tea.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“There’s some girl out there,” M. C. said. “Saw her early, just walking along. Some new kind of a girl. And just now I saw something shining. But I don’t see it now. Don’t know if it’s the girl for sure. You have any protection against girls?” He laughed.
The dude smiled up at M. C. “Is she a pretty little thing with a back pack?”
“Sure, a green pack,” M. C. said. “You know her?”