Robin Yocum's novel The Essay is an inspiring and humorous story about Jimmy Lee Hickam, a kid who lives in rural Ohio. As Jimmy sees it, when he grows up, he'll either be locked up or boozing and working at the mill. A teacher shows Jimmy, though, that there just may be another way to get out of Appalachia. Listening to Fleet Cooper is a joy. He brings to life a variety of characters, from gruff drunkards to Jimmy's idealistic teacher. Cooper's performance can be anywhere from quiet and touching to loud and bellicose.
Jimmy Lee Hickam grew up along Red Dog Road, a dead-end strip of gravel and mud buried deep in the bowels of Appalachian Ohio. It is the poorest road, in the poorest county, in the poorest region of the state. To make things worse, the name Hickam is synonymous with trouble. Jimmy Lee hails from a heathen mix of thieves, moonshiners, drunkards, and general anti-socials that for decades have clung to both the hardscrabble hills and the iron bars of every jail cell in the region. This life, Jimmy Lee believes, is his destiny, someday working with his drunkard father at the sawmill, or sitting next to his arsonist brother in the penitentiary. There aren’t many options if your last name is Hickam.
An inspiring coach and Jimmy Lee's ability to play football are the only things motivating him to return for his junior year of high school - until his visionary English teacher cuts him a break and preserves his eligibility for the coming football season. To thank her, Jimmy Lee writes a winning essay in the high school writing contest. When irate parents and the baffled administration claim he has cheated, his teacher is inspired to take his writing talent as far as it can go, showing him the path out of the hills of Appalachia.
Terrific characterizations, surprising revelations, gut-wrenching past betrayals, and an unforgettable cast of characters born of the dusty, worn-out landscape of southeastern Ohio make The Essay a powerful, evocative, and incredibly moving novel.
©2012 Robin Yocum (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
"Yocum writes like the reporter he used to be. He’s observant and still has his eye for detail and nuance." (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
I have been so moved by this book. I can't recommend it enough. This is a rare story that will stick with me quite a while. I will no doubt listen to it again and will buy the hard back copy just to own it. I love books, and read often, but this story touched me as few do this much.
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