Kerry Madden’s third Maggie Valley story, Jessie’s Mountain, seems to me to be just the right book to ponder on the very last day of summer. It seems right because it’s a story with a good measure of longing and a feeling of being grateful for the good things you’ve got, and time moving along no matter what. It’s about doing difficult things and remembering to keep on dreaming.
If you’re not already Kerry Madden-crazy, then I’m envious, because boy-oh-boy do you have a treat in store. Three whole Maggie Valley books that you can read one after the other without waiting! Happy day! You’ll be starting off with Gentle’s Holler, meeting the Weems family and getting into the rhythm of life in the Smoky Mountains with Livy Two and her eight (eventually nine) siblings, her Mama and her musician Daddy. Then, in Louisiana’s Song, we learn a lot more about Livy’s sister Louise, the artist in the Weems family, as Livy Two faces more challenges and the looming possibility that her family might have to leave the valley for good. Running through both of these tales is music, Livy Two’s music and her Daddy’s and her sister Gentle’s angelic voice. Music holds this family together, lending humour and tenderness to day-to-day life and struggle in Maggie Valley.
Which brings you right up to Jessie’s Mountain, the third (and it looks like final) installment in the Weems’ story. Livy Two makes a risky and bold decision to run off to audition for a music man in Nashville, hoping that her success will save her family’s home in the valley for good. Grandma Horace gives Livy her mother’s childhood diary, and Livy and her siblings learn a lot more about the girl her mother used to be. Of course, events do not unfold in the way Livy dreamed they would, but she keeps her family’s best possible future close in her sights and works hard to get there.
I think it’s the warmth and honesty pouring from these stories that has made this trilogy one of my happiest reading experiences during the last year. It’s quite something to write a family story that is rooted completely in everyday trials and tribulations and pleasures that turns out so absorbing and never veers towards sappy. With characters quirky enough to be interesting without being unbelievable, an evocative setting and important conflicts that kids will connect with, Madden’s books spoil readers. At the end of every one of the Maggie Valley novels, I felt completely filled up with the big-hearted story and the country music and landscape of the Smoky Mountains. Kerry Madden is a gifted and graceful writer, and I think Livy Two’s story is going to be treasured by kids for a long time. (Kerry… say you’ll write more… pretty please?)