So here’s why I read so much historical fiction… I learn stuff! How else would a woman from the plains of Minnesota find out about the turpentine camps of the American South during the Great Depression? Before I read The Saints of Swallow Hill, I didn’t know how turpentine was made or why North Carolina is called the Tar Heel State. Now I do, and I had the pleasure of following some fascinating characters along the way.
Rae Lynn Cobb and her husband, Warren, run a small turpentine farm together during the Great Depression. Though the work is hard and often dangerous, Rae Lynn, who spent her childhood in an orphanage, is thankful for it. When Warren is seriously injured, Rae Lynn undertakes a desperate act of mercy. To keep herself from jail and support herself, she disguises herself as a man and heads to the only place she can think of that might offer anonymity—a turpentine camp in Georgia named Swallow Hill.
Swallow Hill is isolated and squalid, and although Rae Lynn works tirelessly, she becomes a target for Crow, the ever-watchful woods rider who checks each laborer’s tally and inflicts horrific punishments when they aren’t met. Delwood Reese, who’s come to Swallow Hill hoping for his own redemption, offers “Ray” a small measure of protection. As Rae Lynn forges a deeper friendship with both Del and the woman who operates the commissary, she envisions a path out of the camp.
Author Donna Everhart does a wonderful job showing man’s inhumanity to man, and the innate pull we possess to overcome adversity through pluck and determination. Her characterization is especially good. Whether villain or hero, they are all complex and interesting. Sometimes dual storylines falter, but in this case, they were well written and easy to follow. I also loved her well-honed dialogue and use of dialect, not so over the top that it was irritating. The Saints of Swallow Hill was a powerful story of courage, survival, and friendship. From the opening sentence to the last, this beautiful novel kept my attention, although the ending was anticlimactic. A great read. 4.5 stars.
Published Date: January 2022
Genre: Historical fiction
Read-alikes: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger.