On opposite sides of the mountain
Ivy June Mosely and Catherine Combs are both from Kentucky, but their lifestyles are worlds apart. The two seventh-grade students have agreed to take part in an exchange program; the girls will visit each other for two weeks at a time and record their impressions in their journals.
In the skillful hands of veteran author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, author of the Newbery Award-winning Shiloh and an astonishing 135 other books, Faith, Hope, and Ivy June unfolds with poetic restraint and unexpected discoveries. As the story opens, we meet Ivy June as she prepares to leave her home in mountainous and old-timey Thunder Creek for a stay with Catherine and her family in a posh suburb of Lexington. She moved in with her grandparents, Mammaw and Papaw, after her own home became too crowded. There’s no running water in most Thunder Creek homes and life tends to be led hand-to-mouth. The town relies on its coal mines, and Ivy June worries for the safety of her beloved Papaw as he returns home each night exhausted and covered in coal dust.
Miles away in Lexington, Catherine awaits Ivy June’s arrival. Catherine’s family takes great pains to welcome Ivy June and to hide their own apprehensions and prejudices. After a tour of Catherine’s lovely, spacious home—the air-conditioning and multiple bathrooms make a big impression—the girls begin to form a friendship, though fragile at times, based on their commonalities and an intentional downplaying of their differences. Their view of each other’s standard of living becomes especially dramatic when Catherine comes to Thunder Creek, trekking over the hills and bathing outside in a tin tub.
As they engage in their shared journey, the girls can’t help but be forever changed by it. But how will these changes affect their lives going forward? Each has expectations and fears, each has to contend with their family’s preconceived notions about life on the other side, and each has to come to terms with the idea that certain stereotypes will inevitably affect their experience. In the end, it’s a shared devotion to their respective families that will enable a bond to form, particularly in the face of loss and a newfound appreciation for the gifts of their own daily lives.
Ellen Trachtenberg is the author of The Best Children’s Literature: A Parent’s Guide.