Lord of the Mountain
Ronald Kidd, Author
Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, Sep. 1, 2018
Suitable for ages: 9-12
Themes: Family Secrets, Grief, Family Relationships, Mountain Music, Self-discovery
Nate’s family has a secret. And it’s wrapped up in a song. Ever Since Nate Owens saw a needle glide across a 78-rpm record, he’s been fascinated by the science and beauty of music. Before long, he is devouring Popular Science magazines and making his own crystal set radio.
It’s the summer of 1927 when Victor Records producer Ralph Peer comes to Nate’s hometown of Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia, to audition “mountain music” singers and musicians. There’s no way Nate is going to miss the chance to get inside the studio and learn the mechanics of the recording business. He becomes friends with the technical team, the soon-to-become famous Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. The only problem is, Nate’s preacher father hates music and says it is evil — forbidding it in his home and his church. When he discovers that Nate’s been hanging around musicians and producers, he comes down hard. With nothing left for Nate at home, he decides to take off in search of answers to his family’s troubled past. He carries with him a picture of a grave site that says “Sweet Sister” on it.
Nate hops a train with the help of a man he meets, Bill. Bill quickly educates Nate about the rails — when to get on and off, how to hide his possessions in his shoes, and the dangers he may encounter. He learns that the homeless are called “hoboes” and that they have “jungle” camps in towns near train routes. They offer a place to sleep, shared food, safety from the police and other thugs.
Nate ends up in Poor Valley, where the Carter Family lives. They welcome him into their home and Nate begins to work for the family. They travel around the mountains in search of songs they can record for Victor Records. Along the way Nate stumbles upon his own past and the secrets that have driven his father to religious fanaticism.
Set during the “big bang” of country music, this exciting historical novel tells of one boy’s journey of self-discovery at a moment when an entire region was finding its voice for the first time.
Why I like this book:
Ronald Kidd has written a captivating novel that cleverly weaves together a 13-year-old boy’s journey to discover the deep wounds that grip his father/family, and pursue his love of music and the science behind the recording industry. Wow, this novel is a treasure for readers who like historical fiction. I learned so much about the birth of country music, which was known in the late 1920s as “mountain music!” A lot of research went into this novel.
The main characters and minor ones are multi-layered and unforgettable. You get a real feel for the musical details of the period and the fabric of the community –the Carters and hoboes included. Nate is a strong and determined character, not willing to accept his father’s fanatic rantings to his tent congregation. He’s driven by his passion for science and learning. His younger brother, Arnie, wants to be his father. Nate’s mother is gentle and seems to understand Nate’s father for reasons he can’t understand. His best friend Sue Dean, is a lovely balance to Nate, but she also has her secrets. Both their families are dysfunctional.
The setting is vivid and realistic. The plot is bold and adventurous with an ending readers won’t forget. Readers looking for something new and creative will enjoy this book. This is a perfect book for school libraries.
What a pleasure it was to read Ronald Kidd’s novel. I look forward to catching up with his other novels. As other’s have mentioned, this novel reminds you of Vince Vawter’s work.
Ronald Kidd is the author of 13 novels for young readers, including the highly acclaimed “Night on Fire” and “Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial.” His novels of adventure, comedy, mystery, and American history have received the Children’s Choice Award, an Edgar Award nomination, and honors from the American Library Association, the International Reading Association, the Library of Congress, and the New York Public Library. He is a two-time O’Neill playwright who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
*Review copy provided by publisher.