All the Small Town Vibes | Rural Voices edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Friday, October 09, 2020

 Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Candlewick Press
Publication Date: 10/13/20
Pages: 336
Source: publisher in exchange for honest review (Thanks, Candlewick Press!)

Think you know what rural America is like? Discover a plurality of perspectives in this enlightening anthology of stories that turns preconceptions on their head. Gracie sees a chance of fitting in at her South Carolina private school, until a "white trash"-themed Halloween party has her steering clear of the rich kids. Samuel's Tejano family has both stood up to oppression and been a source of it, but now he's ready to own his true sexual identity. A Puerto Rican teen in Utah discovers that being a rodeo queen means embracing her heritage, not shedding it. . . . For most of America's history, rural people and culture have been casually mocked, stereotyped, and, in general, deeply misunderstood. Now an array of short stories, poetry, graphic short stories, and personal essays, along with anecdotes from the authors' real lives, dives deep into the complexity and diversity of rural America and the people who call it home. Fifteen extraordinary authors - diverse in ethnic background, sexual orientation, geographic location, and socioeconomic status - explore the challenges, beauty, and nuances of growing up in rural America. From a mountain town in New Mexico to the gorges of New York to the arctic tundra of Alaska, you'll find yourself visiting parts of this country you might not know existed - and meet characters whose lives might be surprisingly similar to your own.
Rural Voices is an anthology of #ownvoices that live in rural areas across America, hoping to tackle the stereotypes of the small town experience. While I've read many books of characters who live in small towns, most do not discuss the many judgments that follow in their wake (that all people in small towns have bad teeth or are all a little backward, for example). Not only am I from a small, rural area but I've also been at the end of those assumptions that people have of small town residents. 

When I first discovered this book, I immediately wanted to read it. Finally, an entire book that features rural voices and the rural experience. I hoped to find myself and my experience (pic below is of my family's farm) in some of the characters. Not only did I find the book so relatable as some stories tackled some challenges I myself have been through, but it also seeks to teach readers that these assumptions and generalizations are inappropriate and wrong. 

I’ve never heard or read from most of the authors but that's what makes anthologies so great; you get to discover new authors. 

Without giving too much away, I’ve provided a sentence-synopsis of what each short story entails, as well as my individual rating for each:

The (Unhealthy) Breakfast Club by Monica M. Roe (3 stars): A group of scholarship students share their experiences over breakfast. 

The Hole of Dark Kill Hollow by Rob Costello (4 stars): Two characters face a mysterious pit in the woods that is said to give them what they most desire, at a price. 

A Border Kid Comes of Age by David Bowles (4 stars): A lovely, significant and timely coming of age and coming out story in verse.

Fish and Fences by Veeda Bybee (4 stars): A family tackles racist assumptions in a small town.

Close Enough by Nora Shalaway Carpenter (4 stars): A high school senior learns to accept the place she’s from and all the challenges that come with that.

Whiskey and Champagne by S.A. Cosby (3.5 stars): A too-short but interesting discussion on how one accusation can easily wreck someone’s life. 

What Home Is by Ashley Hope Perez (3 stars): A heart-aching poem about the meaning of home.

Island Rodeo Queen by Yamile Saied Mendez (4.5 stars): A lovely story of a young girl who dreams of one day becoming a rodeo queen.

Grandpa by Randy DuBurke (5 stars): A graphic novel graces the anthology about a boy who visits his grandmother for the first time in several years and discovers something he had lost.

Best in Show by Tirzah Price (4 stars): A great story of a young pig trainer who has been crushing on one of the girls in her class. 

Praise the Lord and Pass the Little Debbies by David Macinnis Gill (3 stars): A snippet of a boy’s life who goes to church every Sunday.

The Cabin by Nasugraq Rainey Hopson (5 stars): A young trapper recounts her strange experience in the Alaskan wilderness.

Black Nail Polish by Shae Carys (3 stars): A story about what it means to be a good friend.

Secret Menu by Veeda Bybee (2 stars): A short comic of restaurant goers choosing food from the secret menu.

Pull Up a Seat Around the Stove by Joseph Bruchac (3 stars): An autobiography of Bruchac’s rural experience. 

Home Waits by Estelle Laure (3.5 stars): A student decides to change the path she’s on after being visited by three ghosts.

Overall, this anthology was filled with a diverse cast of #ownvoices narratives that represent the rural experience. Not only does it capture the hardships and challenges that come with living in a rural area, it speaks to its beauty and optimism as well. It also has an underlying message that every experience, no matter if you live in a rural area or not, is different as everyone is unique and special in their own way. Rural Voices was a magical anthology that really brings the rural experience to life and tackles the many assumptions people harbor about small towns. 

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