Monday, March 14, 2016

Book Review: Them That Go

Them That Go
By Becky Mushko
Copyright 2016
Kindle Edition
(222 pages print edition)

Southwest Virginia author Becky Mushko* presents the reader with an intriguing coming-of-age novel that brings in folk lore, superstition, secrets, and traditions that often are overlooked by other writers in her new book, Them That Go.

Annie Caldwell, a senior in high school in 1972, lives in one of the "hollers" of Appalachian Virginia. She keeps to herself in school and has few friends. This is in part because her family is not wealthy, but also because Annie has a secret. She's one of the few members of her family line who have inherited a special gift. She can talk to animals, while her elderly aunt, whom she calls "Aint Lulie," talks to the dead.

She also has family issues. Her brother died in Viet Nam, leaving her mother depressed and her father overly caught up in his whisky. Annie retreats to Aint Lulie's house, where the elder aunt shares Appalachian lore and family history with her intelligent niece. “There’s always been them that go and them that stay in ever’ generation,” Aint Lulie says as she explains lineage to the girl.

Mushko offers a vivid account of the difficult life the hardy folks in Appalachia lived then (and for some, now). From emptying the slop jar every day to carrying in wood or planting gardens, the chores never end. Annie cares for her aunt without complaint - a good lesson for today's youth.

The quiet life of this Virginia backwater town changes when a young girl in Annie's class goes missing. Annie knows more than she can tell because the animals have spoken to her - so she has to choose between remaining unnoticed or announcing her special talents to her community.

This magical realism story is set in a believable world. Annie's magical gift sets her apart in a place already separated from the rest of the country. Her town is one of the forgotten landscapes that dot that area, filled with the characters frequently found in similar areas throughout Appalachia. Some of these characters speak in written dialect. This style of writing can be difficult for some readers, but Mushko handles it with great skill and the dialect adds to the magic of the story instead of detracting from it, as over-done dialect sometimes does.

Mushko has created an interesting character in Annie Caldwell, a young woman the reader won't soon forget. What might someone with her talent ultimately make of her life? Thankfully, the author offers us a foreshadowing of Annie's future the end of the book, giving a satisfying ending that does not leave the reader wondering.

The author is a retired English teacher who has published several other stories, including the Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin tale, Ferradiddledumday (2010) and a middle-grade paranormal novel, Stuck (2011). Other books available on Kindle by this author include Patches on the Same Quilt and four collections of short stories.

She has won numerous short story contests and published extensively in regional magazines and in the Cup of Comfort series. Visit her website at or her blog at

*The author is a personal friend.


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