By: Denise Giardina
(Not technically a series, but followed by The Unquiet Earth)
Storming Heaven is quite the novel.
Maybe it’s just because I love a good historical fiction novel, but wow.
Storming Heaven is a fictionalized account of the events leading up to the Battle of Blair Mountain. Although the dates, the names, the places are sometimes changed, many of the major plot points in this book are very real.
If you read my last review (Freshwater Road), you’ll know that sometimes that’s a downside for me. If it’s too concentrated on the historicity of the subject matter, you lose something.
Giardina doesn’t make that mistake.
Storming Heaven is beautiful. The characters, with all of their insanity, cruelty, fear, anger, pride, disillusionment, are beautiful. The events in their lives clearly define them, but in the best way. In a way that makes them more real, a way that makes the characters rise above their situations, or sink below them, but not be overshadowed by them.
Storming Heaven is also a tearjerker. It’s very real in the sense that there’s not a whole lot of optimism in this book. Events feel very out of characters’ control, and you’re not sure how to feel. There are clear antagonists, but there are also not-so-clear antagonists, and the same with the protagonists. But that’s the beauty of complex characters.
It’s hard to read this novel and not get fired up about social injustice. It highlights in the plainest ways the consequences of coal mining in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s a shocking look at unionization, at big business, at political corruption, but all in a way that doesn’t seem to shove it down your throat.
Obviously I’m a fan. I’ve added The Unquiet Earth to my “to read” list. It’s not a direct sequel, but the main character is the child of the main characters in this novel, and it deals with similar themes.
I think we can all learn a lot from Storming Heaven. Lessons about love, and home, and family, and doing the right thing, and the unfairness of life. But even if you learn nothing from Giardina, you’ll be set off on an adventure through 1920s West Virginia that you won’t forget anytime soon.
If you liked Storming Heaven, check out these books:
(for Appalachian themes)
Where the Lilies Bloom by Bill and Vera Cleaver
The Unquiet Earth by Denise Giardina
(for social unrest themes)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
(for helplessness themes)
The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
(for historical fiction)
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
Good King Harry by Denise Giardina
Saints and Villains by Denise Giardina
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Meridian by Alice Walker
Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr.