On Agate Hill
Molly Petree's father died in the Civil War. Her mother and siblings have also died. Now she lives on the Agate Hill plantation in North Carolina with her Uncle Junius and his family. When she is 13 she starts a diary that is hidden in a cubby hole in the attic. She tells her diary about her life for the next year or so as her aunt dies, another aunt comes to visit with her cousin and (later) best friend, Mary White, and how the housekeeper Selena moves in with Uncle Junius, marrying him as he is on his death bed.
Molly feels like a "ghost girl" in that house, keeping company with her ghost family. She has her collection of phenomenon hidden away. She sees much of the aftermath as the South is ravaged after the War. Selena keeps a poor house. After Uncle Junius dies it gets worse, with little food and traveling men who stay on. Molly has learned to divorce her mind from what happens to her.
Then a mysterious benefactor, Simon Black, rescues her and sends her to boarding school in Virginia. Mr. Black, her father's boyhood friend, had promised her dying father that he would care for her father's family. Although he himself is distant, he is generous with the funds needed to keep Molly at the school. Molly becomes the darling of most of the students and teachers - all except the head mistress. After graduation and teaching, Molly and Agnes, one of the other teachers, leave the academy and bury themselves in the western mountains of North Carolina in a small country schoolhouse.
There Molly meets the effervescent Jacky and falls in love. She runs off with him and they marry, living on top of the mountain. He is a traveling man himself, but always returns to Molly. Their children come - then go. Tragedy strikes first the children, then Jacky. Molly finally returns to Agate Hill and her diary.
Lee Smith tells On Agate Hill from personal narratives - Molly's diary, the school mistress' reports, letters, and court testimony. Each gives a different perspective of Molly and her story. She is the victim, the heroic child, the trouble maker, the beloved teacher, the young bride, the troubled mother, the widow, and finally the crazy old woman living once again at the old family home.
It is fascinating to follow Molly's life through these different voices. She can be compared to the heroine from classic fiction like Jane Eyre or The Little Princess. Yet Lee Smith gives Molly her own life, her own story,and keeps the reader involved. Even at the end, there are still questions - what really happened on the mountain? What happened to Selena? Did Mary White die young or move away? This is good fiction to chew over.
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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