Carolina Harmony by Marilyn Taylor McDowell

Here’s the publisher’s description of Carolina Harmony:

Carolina’s a runaway hiding out at Harmony Farm. Mr. Ray and Miss Latah treat Carolina as their own. For 10 years she lived easy with her parents in the North Carolina mountains. But it feels risky speaking about the accident that claimed them and her baby brother. And Carolina won’t reveal the year of living with Auntie Shen, her surrogate grandma who took ill and was taken away or how she, Carolina, had to live in foster homes. Then Russell, a troublemaker from the foster home Carolina ran away from, secretly comes to Harmony Farm. Believing he’s a friend, Carolina sneaks him food and takes the blame for his pranks, until one night, when something so terrible happens that Carolina runs away again.

I was interested in this book because I enjoy having books for my students that are set in North Carolina. This year’s NC Battle of the Books list had two other books with female protagonists set in the North Carolina mountains: Dovey Coe and Gentle’s Holler. Both of those were fairly successful with my students, and I was interested to see if this one would join those ranks.

To be honest, I had a little bit of trouble with Carolina Harmony, probably for the right reasons. Carolina’s life is a hard one, and it was difficult to read as she lost her parents and then lost her Auntie Shen and then was moved to different foster homes before finally winding up at Harmony Farm. I also thought the flashbacks (especially at the beginning) could have been more clear.

Despite those aspects, what I thought made this novel special was its strong sense of place. Carolina clearly adores the mountains where she lives, and the way that McDowell writes about them will make you love them, too. There are also good messages about friendship as the novel is set in 1964 and Carolina’s best friend is an African-American girl. I would put this in the hands of my 6th and 7th graders who enjoyed the novels I mentioned above and to students for whom setting (especially being outdoors) is important.

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