by Sharon Kane
Though Miller’s Valley, by Anna Quindlen (2016, Random House), has a very specific setting, much is presented in the story that seems universal. We learn early on that Miller’s Valley is gone, having been submerged for the sake of a reservoir, all in the name of progress. The inhabitants have already lost the fight to those wielding political and economic power. Yet the story of that battle, encompassing narrator Mimi Miller’s childhood and teen years, is still of interest to us, as are the many other battles—within families and within individuals.
Mimi contrasts her two childhood friends for us. “Donald’s personality was like vanilla ice cream, and LaRhonda was like that weird Neapolitan kind, with the layers of strawberry and vanilla and chocolate, that turned a tan color when it melted in your bowl and you made ice cream soup” (pp. 21-22). We also get to know the adults through Mimi’s eyes. She observes her Aunt Ruth’s refusal to leave her house; she listens to her mother make snide remarks that Ruth can hear, though the sisters haven’t spoken in years. She hears her pragmatist mother and her idealist father arguing over when, or whether, to give up and sell the house that the government will take over either way. Her brother, Tommy, leaves behind wreckage each time he gets in trouble, including abandoning her nephew when he eventually disappears.
Mimi doesn’t complain (because she is not the whiny type) though she handles an awful lot of responsibility throughout her adolescence. When she’s not in school or studying she’s working at a restaurant or babysitting her nephew. She’s responsible and sensible with one exception—her boyfriend is a loser. I wanted to warn her urgently, Why can’t you see that he’s no good for you? You deserve so much better, Mimi Miller!
Does she ever find her brother? Does she go to college? Does she leave her unhealthy relationship? Does she ever see her childhood friend Donald again? (Actually, we know the answer to that one, since she slips in a sentence about it along the way. But we’re dying to know when, and how, and what happens after that . . .) I’d better stop now, before I give too much away. I invite you to enter Miller’s Valley and learn why it is—or, sadly, was—such a special place.
Appropriate for high school and beyond
Economics, politics, ELA, psychology