After reading The Education of Dixie Dupree, I knew I’d be reading Donna Everhart’s next novel, but I didn’t expect to have the pleasure of reading her second book this year. (I’m an Outlander fan, so I’m accustomed to waiting four years-ish for a new novel from an author I love.) Needless to say, I was thrilled to see The Road to Bittersweet listed on Edelweiss, and requested it immediately.
Set in 1940s Appalachia, The Road to Bittersweet is the story of the Stamper family—told from the perspective of fourteen-year-old Wallis Ann—who live in Stamper’s Creek, North Carolina. She—along with her parents, younger brother Seph, and older sister Lacia—is forced to flee the family home when a hurricane strikes, bringing torrential rains that results in the devastating flood of the Tuckasegee river. In the midst of their escape, their truck is swept away by the flood waters. They manage to retreat to the back of the truck, but three family members, including Wallis Ann, go over the side when the truck strikes something in the water.
The family is eventually reunited, gathering at the place where their home once stood, having lost everything but each other. They set about the business of surviving as best they can with few resources, making do with the little they have, when tragedy strikes a second time. Broken, they abandon their destroyed home and travel from place to place, singing to earn a little money. On the brink of starvation, Wallis Ann meets a young man named Clayton near one of the campsites they frequented as they roamed the area. They quickly became friends, and Wallis Ann has her first taste of young love.
Thanks to Clayton’s suggestion, the family is employed as a singing act for a traveling circus. The Stampers are relieved to finally have a semblance of stability, but Wallis Ann can’t help but notice the attention Clayton gives to Laci. Her jealousy sets in motion a chain of events that results in another bout of anguish for the family—one that they may not be able to overcome.
Everhart has created a beautiful story of struggle and survival against impossible odds. I fell in love with the Stamper family almost immediately. Each member of this family endeared themselves to me, and are very relatable characters. Novels that focus on people (or families) left struggling after a catastrophic event have always appealed to me, and The Road to Bittersweet paints a realistic picture of not only that, but of the heavy emotional toll that comes with it. The title itself (which I think is perfect!) hints this will be an often sad story, and it is… but it is not without hope. Even in their darkest days, even if they want to, the Stampers never give up. They keep on, no matter what.
I loved this story. It put me through the emotional wringer over and over again, with some portions affecting me so greatly I had to set the book aside for a bit in order to process it, and prepare myself to read on. There were things about Laci that I kept wishing to know more about, but that was a desire on my part, not something that critically affected the story by its lack. If anything, it’s a tribute to how wonderfully written Laci and all the other characters were, that I was left wishing to know more!
If you enjoy Southern fiction or coming-of-age stories, I highly recommend that this one be added to your list. It’s a fabulous book… one I hope others will enjoy as much as I did.
About the Book
Set in the Carolinas in the 1940s, The Road to Bittersweet is a beautifully written, evocative account of a young woman reckoning not just with the unforgiving landscape, but with the rocky emotional terrain that leads from innocence to wisdom.
For fourteen-year-old Wallis Ann Stamper and her family, life in the Appalachian Mountains is simple and satisfying, though not for the tenderhearted. While her older sister, Laci—a mute, musically gifted savant—is constantly watched over and protected, Wallis Ann is as practical and sturdy as her name. When the Tuckasegee River bursts its banks, forcing them to flee in the middle of the night, those qualities save her life. But though her family is eventually reunited, the tragedy opens Wallis Ann’s eyes to a world beyond the creek that’s borne their name for generations.
Carrying what’s left of their possessions, the Stampers begin another perilous journey from their ruined home to the hill country of South Carolina. Wallis Ann’s blossoming friendship with Clayton, a high diving performer for a traveling show, sparks a new opportunity, and the family joins as a singing group. But Clayton’s attention to Laci drives a wedge between the two sisters. As jealousy and betrayal threaten to accomplish what hardship never could—divide the family for good—Wallis Ann makes a decision that will transform them all in unforeseeable ways…
About the Author
Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, she has lived close to her hometown for most of her life. For several years she worked for high tech companies, specializing in project management and product introduction. She carries a Bachelor of Science in Business Management. She lives in Dunn, North Carolina with her husband, Blaine, and a tiny, heart stealing Yorkshire terrier, named Mister.