Snakes and Stones
It’s 1921, and after nearly two years on the road with his traveling elixir show, Daddy’s still making no move to go back to Kentucky and buy Mama that house. So Chestnut is forced to come up with her own plan to get home. At night, when Daddy and the triplets are in bed, she draws up flyers with the name of the next town they’ll be traveling to. Before they leave each town and hoping her mama will see them, she nails up the flyers, leaving Mama an easy trail straight to her children.
When that doesn’t work, Chestnut is forced to try something bigger. But when her newest plan lands Daddy in jail and Mama has to come to the rescue, Chestnut discovers that things are not always as they seem. Written with a wonderful mountain hillbilly voice, Snakes and Stones has a mystery at its heart and lovable, strong, and complicated characters.
Family Drama in the 1920s
Chestnut Hill's father is a traveling elixir (aka snake oil) salesman who travels around the south in 1921 trying to earn enough money to keep Chestnut and her triplet siblings Filbert, Hazelnut and Macadamia in food and clothing. This isn't easy, especially since the group is frequently run out of town by angry officers of the law who don't appreciate that there is an entertainment value in addition to the elixir. Chestnut is tired of traveling, and misses her mother dreadfully, and it doesn't help that she's not entirely sure why the family can't be with her mother. Joining the group is Abraham, a friend of her fathers who is black and has to deal with the prejudices of the time. When Chestnut steals a large amount of money from a general store, her father is eventually arrested and the children are put into foster homes. Will their mother come and retrieve them?
Chestnut is a concerned sister who is trying to care for her siblings the best she can, even if she does make some bad decisions in the process. Her longing for her mother is palpable and sweet, so readers should know that the resolution of the situation might be worrisome to younger readers-- Chestnut's mother does state that she doesn't want to raise the children. Still, the father is a strong support and is trying to do what he thinks best for his family.
Racial themes are apparent, and the father's equanimity about Abraham's background and in his own resistance to the societal expectations of the time are a nice touch. The treatment of African-Americans at the time isn't glossed over, but the group manages to work around as much as they can, which I imagine is the way that many people operated.
Snakes and Stones is a good choice for anyone who enjoyed the movie Paper Moon and want a family travel adventure set during an interesting and underappreciated time period.