BOOK REVIEW: Author returns to Appalachia in debut novel

Cover photo of Mercer University Press

“Mother of Rain,” by Karen Spears Zacharias. © 2013, Mercer University Press. Softcover, 238 pages. Retail: $17.

I’m having a hard time classifying Karen Spears Zacharias’ first novel. It certainly wasn’t what I expected. Zacharias has a background in news and nonfiction writing, but with “Mother of Rain” she has made a seamless transition to historical fiction. Rumors are this is the first in a trilogy of books revolving around the same group of characters introduced in “Rain.”

Set in the 1940s in the Appalachian hills of East Tennessee, the story follows Maizee, a 10-year-old girl who moves to the town of Christian Bend following the death of her mother. Her father, who is emotionally unable to raise a “girl child,” sends Maizee to live with an aunt and uncle, who treat her like the child they were unable to have. But Maizee’s inability to deal with her abandonment raises issues for which the limited medical and psychological resources of the time are inadequate — and even love cannot conquer.

Zacharias was raised in the South and “Mother of Rain” is written entirely in the dialect of Appalachia, which can be difficult to follow at first. She does include a glossary at the end of the book for many of the unfamiliar terms. Also included are prompts for book discussions, which makes the story a great selection for local readers’ groups.

“Mother of Rain” tackles many issues, not the least of which is mental illness and the stigma it still holds today. It is an unflinching look at one woman’s struggle to find happiness from several points of view. And while it’s not a “happily ever after” story, it will leave you profoundly moved.

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