Review: The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (May 13, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1250041988
  • Source: Publisher

Eleven-year-old Brigid Howley live in the Pennsylvania coal country. The mines in the ground below their home rage with a deadly ferocity.  They are in constant fear of deadly fumes that escape these mines and are often awaken in the middle of the night by a man responsible for checking the gas levels in their home. It becomes a regular and constant part of their lives, expecting an explosion in the vast mines beneath their home to take their home and all of their possessions.

When a sink hole robs them of their home, they are forced to move to the home of her estranged paternal grandparents. Their new home is not any safer than the previous but the family is desperate. Her mother is the only breadwinner in the family; her father, injured years ago in the mines,  is unable to hold down a job for long. Her grandmother is a force to be reckoned with and an argument from years ago causes a rift between Brigid’s mother and Grandmother. Her grandfather, stricken with a black-lung, constantly reminds Brigid of the curse that haunts their family.

Brigid struggles to keep her weakened and tested family together. Her mother long ago lost any faith in Brigid’s father and the tension in the home is overwhelming.  Yet when Brigid discovers a ghastly sight in a bootleg mine shaft,  family secrets come pouring out, true evidence of the curse that plagues this strong, Irish family.  With it become a sudden revelation to the cause of her father’s mining injury and implies his involvement of his brother’s death in the mines years ago.

A devastating and emotional coming of age novel , The Hollow Ground beautifully and so expertly captures a genuine part of our country’s history. The fires that raged in the Pennsylvania country still rage, a constant reminder of the past.  Set in the 1960s, this novel eloquently blends a historical account of our nation with one young girl’s journey to come to terms with her family’s haunted past.  The characters so richly developed that readers won’t have  a difficult time connecting, enduring the struggles and challenges they are faced. The setting is expertly detailed, making it easy to become immersed in this truly tremendous novel.

To say this novel is a page-turner is an understatement. I was captivated from the first page, taking every minute I could spare to retreat back to Brigid’s world. Growing up outside coal country myself (albeit, a far more modernized setting) ti wasn’t difficult for me to become invested in this story. A must read for both fans of historical fiction and mystery, The Hollow Ground has an intensity that will continue to burn within me like the abandoned coal mines that played such an integral role in our nation’s history. Highly, highly recommended.

4 thoughts on “Review: The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett



  1. I’m sold! I hope to hear some thoughts on the audio version of this book. Adding in audio is another way for me to read/listen to ALL the books, ha ha. Thanks Jenn.



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