Full Title & Author:
Sharp Top, A Historical Novel by Carolyn Tyree Feagans
How I Came Across This Book:
The source of several excellent books, my good friend Roub had this book from which I borrowed. Roub is native to one the areas that is a large part of Sharp Top’s storyline Bedford, VA and a true lover of the Blue Ridge. Having personally hiked up to Sharp Top’s summit and traveled within its shadow via the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway, just the title alone got my attention.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the book. I have read historical novels before and enjoyed most but not all of them. I find that historical novels help me connect with and understand the history they present better than that of any textbook. I have always been interested in the places I visit or pass by; wondering about its history and those who visited the area before. Sharp Top allows the reader to do just that; find out what happened before.
Although some specific characters are fiction, the author Carolyn Tyree Feagans has done an incredible amount of research to bring forth the possible realities of life for the people living in the Blue Ridge Mountains between 1929 and 1946. Feagans puts her characters into historical happenings and common problems of the time and as a result, she is able to show how they deal and adjust to those circumstances, showing emotions that are true and relatable even today.
At first, the novel covers the lives of several characters over the span of several years. This part of the novel I found rather slow-moving at first however, this is probably more a true reflection of the time period of her characters. Life in the Blue Ridge Mountains moved at a slower pace. The people worked hard and lived off the land finding enjoyment within the nature around them and their small community. Feagans takes the first part of the novel to bounce back and forth between various characters allowing the reader insight within various social and economic backgrounds of the time however also weaving in fiction. This allows her character’s lives to all intertwine and also the reader to connect with them in one way or another.
Through the beginning of the novel, a large focus is put on three young children who become a significant part of the entire novel, also providing a budding romance. These three provide a “coming of age aspect” to the novel as the readers follow along while they witness change within themselves and their small mountain community. The reader is allowed an intimate look at the lives of the three children and their families as they try to cope with the Great Depression and the years of challenge it brings to each of them, commonality of the automobile and the roads created to the top of Sharp Top itself, along with the building of the Blue Ridge Parkway by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Each significant event within this time period of the novel (1929-1946) greatly affected those alive at the time and the results of which are still a part of the human experience today.
World War II takes center stage in the second half of the book as the reader continues to follow how each character is affected. The War is presented in a way that will be unavoidably felt by the reader as Feagans has successfully created a relationship by this time in the novel, between her characters and the reader. The Army Air Force B25 Bomber crash on Sharp Top, the surrender of the Bataan Peninsula and following death marches, along with the Invasion Normandy are all presented to the reader in first-person thanks to the incredible research on Feagans’ part. Although these events are again intertwined with fiction, this gives the reader a small understanding and perspective of just how these events affected so many even beyond that of the mountain community; a reality that will never fully be understood unless one lived it.
No matter what the joy or tragedy the characters in Feagans novel face, they always find strength and comfort in their beloved mountains. The Blue Ridge Mountains are already considered old in the timeframe of the novel but yet are still able to be enjoyed and explored today. Although a mix of fiction and history, I found this novel a great depiction of the magic the Blue Ridge Mountains have over some people; no matter how far one travels just like Feagans’ characters the Blue Ridge will always be apart of some.
This novel is a mix of history, romance, and tragedy, which I found pleasurable to read and will no doubt only add to my next experiences in the areas mentioned within. I could not help but feel the love Feagan has for the Blue Ridge and the respect she has for its people and history while reading it.
Feagans’ novel Sharp Top can be purchased via her website here or check it out at your local library!
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