And once your reading group has chosen A Land More Kind Than Home, you can use this Reading Group Guide to stimulate discussion once you've stopped giggling over the book trailer.
Children are naturally curious. Right from the get go, they are exploring their world and learning more than we ever expect through their senses. That curiousity doesn't disappear as children get older. They are still attracted to the forbidden, approaching it sideways and quietly and oftentimes without adults realizing what they are seeing, hearing, and learning. In Wiley Cash's debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, there are big and sinister consequences for children harmlessly and unexpectedly snooping about as children do.
Opening with the testimony of Adelaide Lyle, midwife and former church member, it is immediately clear that what goes on in the fanatical, pentecostal Rover Road Church of Christ in Signs Following, is not only beyond the ken of most religious folks but also dangerous and potentially criminal. After the cover-up of the death by snakebite of one of the elderly members of the congregation, Adelaide takes all of the children out of the church for their own safe-keeping, running Sunday school out of her home instead of the church. But even her precautions cannot prevent nine-year old Jess and his older brother Christopher, called Stump and who was born mute, from seeing what they do and precipitating the coming tragedy.
Narrated in turn by Adelaide Lyle, Jess, and local Sheriff Clem Barefield, the story centers on Jess and Stump's inadvertant discovery of something certain adults want to hide and on the threatening, malevolent preacher Carson Chambliss who has so thoroughly warped the congregation that they blindly follow him in subjecting themselves to burns, poison, and snake handling to prove the depths of their faith. Chambliss is supposed to be a man of God and he certainly turns his hypnotic charisma on at times but he also keeps his flock in terrified thrall, leading through fear and demanding complete devotion, which Jess and Stump's mother willing offers, taking her mute son to Chambliss and his church for healing.
Cash has written an intense, dramatic tale of faith and belief and how far people can be willing to go in the name of both. The plot slowly builds tension even despite the inevitable outcome, keeping the reader anxious about the clearly foreshadowed unraveling of the community in the wake of everything that happens. Cash's depiction of Jess and his struggle of how to make sense of the secrets adults keep and why those secrets matter is well done even if Jess occasionally seems far older than his years. The sense of place in the novel is phenomenal and truly evokes Western North Carolina and its mountains, the way that its communities can be so self-contained and closed. And in the end, the over-arching feel of an almost Biblical retribution is so immediate, visceral, and powerful that the reader will continue thinking about this book long after the final page is turned.
For more information about Wiley Cash and the book visit his website, his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.