• Alisa Williams

On Snowden Mountain by Jeri Watts – Book Review


Set in the Appalachian Mountains during World War II, On Snowden Mountain follows 12-year-old Ellen as she goes to live with her Aunt Pearl. The book deals with one difficult theme after another, but unfortunately doesn’t execute any of them well. Ellen’s father has been sent off to war, and her mother struggles with depression – something not talked about openly or understood at the time. Because her mother won’t get out of bed, Ellen goes to live with Aunt Pearl who believes in hard, honest work. Both Ellen’s father, in the letters he writes to her, and Aunt Pearl don’t seem to have any sympathy for her mother’s condition, believing she’s just fragile and not trying hard enough. Ellen seems to absorb these ideas as well.


Ellen arrives at her Aunt’s home in the mountains feeling superior to the community, believing all of them to be uneducated, dirty, etc. She meets a boy in her one-room schoolhouse who can’t read and smells like skunk, and who is treated poorly by everyone, including the teacher. At first, Ellen is mean to him too, but then she befriends him and quickly finds out he is being beaten regularly by his father. The boy smells like skunk because he sets animals free from his father’s traps, rather than see them cooked for dinner.


While I think the themes of the book are important, it didn’t seem anything got resolved by the end of the book, and tackling mental illness, war, abuse, prejudice, etc., all in one very short book (barely 200 pages), just didn’t work.


One of the biggest issues with the book is that we are immediately thrown into the story, with one big change after another happening to Ellen, a character we haven’t had any space or breathing room to connect with or care about. The book is entirely too fast paced for the subject matter, and I felt like I was playing catch-up the whole time. Because we’re so abruptly thrown in and events just start piling up around Ellen, there was never a chance to get to know Ellen, other than as a really irritating, spoiled, prejudiced little girl.


There were so many other things happening in the story that took precedence that developing her personality never seemed to come to fruition. Sure, she has a growth arc where she learns to appreciate the Appalachian community more the longer she’s there, but slapping growth on a shell of a character doesn't accomplish anything. It seemed like everyone else's very real problems solely existed so Ellen could "grow" and once that happened, the book was over, leaving all of the other characters (who were far more interesting than our protagonist) still waiting for solutions.

This review originally appeared on NetGalley. I received a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review of this title.

Alisa Williams is the managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org. She blogs at alisawilliamswrites.com, tweets at @AWWritesStories, and bookstagrams at @AllyWritesStories.

Book cover image courtesy of Candlewick.

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©2020 by Alisa Williams

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