Summary: With her mother facing prison time for a violent political protest, seventeen-year-old Liberty Briscoe has no choice but to leave her Washington, DC, apartment and take a bus to Ebbottsville, Kentucky, to live with her granny. There she can finish high school and put some distance between herself and her mother– her ‘former’ mother, as she calls her. But Ebbottsville isn’t the same as Liberty remembers, and it’s not just because the top of Tanner’s Peak has been blown away to mine for coal. Half the county is out of work, an awful lot of people in town seem to be sick, and the tap water is bright orange–the same water that officials claim is safe to drink. When Granny’s lingering cold turns out to be something much worse, Liberty is convinced the mine is to blame, and starts an investigation that quickly plunges her into a world of secrets, lies, threats, and danger. Liberty isn’t deterred by any of it, but as all her searches turn into dead ends, she comes to a difficult decision: turn to violence like her former mother or give up her quest for good.
This is the story of Liberty, a teenage girl sent off to live with her grandmother in rural Kentucky while her activist mother faces criminal charges for a protest gone wrong. Two idioms come to mind when I think about Liberty’s story:
1) Fish out of water: That’s what this girl, far from her Washington DC prep school, is. Liberty doesn’t look down on her new home; on the contrary, she loves the mountain and her grandmother and just wants to find a place, as far away from her neglectful mother as she can. But finding acceptance is complicated by the fact that…
2) The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: Much as she rails against her mother’s focus on causes instead of her daughter, Liberty shares that stubborn resistance to injustice and willingness to stand up for what she believes in. So when it becomes clear that her grandmother and many other residents are being poisoned by runoff from the local Mountaintop Removal Mining facility, Liberty is determined to do something. With the whole town scared to go up against the wealthy mine owner for fear of losing their jobs or even their lives, Liberty faces an uphill battle.
This book will stay with me for a long time. Liberty is such a believable, passionate character, and the descriptions of her experiences in Appalachia are absolutely visceral. The forces she was up against were so great, I wasn’t sure a satisfying ending was going to be possible. How could she hold to her nonviolent principles when she was literally going up against a murderer? But she cleverly finds a way, and, like most struggles against injustice, it is not complete, but it’s a step in the right direction.
DIG TOO DEEP is out now.