On Snowden Mountain
Ellen’s mother has struggled with depression before, but not like this. With her father away fighting in World War II and her mother unable to care for them, Ellen’s only option is to reach out to her cold, distant aunt Pearl. Soon enough, city-dwelling Ellen and her mother are shepherded off to the countryside to Aunt Pearl’s home, a tidy white cottage at the base of Snowden Mountain. Adjusting to life in a small town is no easy thing: the school has one room, one of her classmates smells of skunks, and members of the community seem to whisper about Ellen’s family. But even as she worries that depression is a family curse to which she’ll inevitably succumb, Ellen slowly begins to carve out a space for herself and her mother on Snowden Mountain in this thoughtful, heartfelt middle-grade novel from Jeri Watts.
Ellen is reluctant about going, but she learns a lot about herself, people, and her family while she is there. Although she is somewhat of an outcast, she begins to befriend a boy who is older than she but still learning to read with the younger students at school. He also smells like skunk. Russell is abused by his alcoholic father who forces him to miss school to trap skunks (because their pelts are worth a good amount of money). As Ellen gets to know Russell better, she is also able to help him learn to spell and read a bit (it seems he has dyslexia).
This book ends up being a little scary owing to the domestic/child abuse/violence, so it should be selected with some care for the maturity of readers.
What I loved: There is a lot to unpack in this book, and it uses simple terms to introduce these big concepts to young readers. This is not an easy book to read, but it does a good job of talking about depression in somewhat abstract terms (as well as showing how other people to react to it/dismiss it) and dyslexia. The historical context of the war and concessions that had to be made for rationing and the like was also interesting.
What left me wanting more: I do wish there had been more resolution/resources for Russell and his mother, but this is a part of the historical context maybe and even exists now as well.
Final verdict: This is an engaging historical middle grade read that deals with some heavy topics. While it may be worth considering the maturity of the reader in selecting this book, it does have a lot of strengths in discussing the era and presenting these topics to the reader in ways that are understandable (with discussions to be started after reading).