Book Review: Rural Voices


ed. by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Rating: 3 out of 5.

published: 13th October 2020
spoilers? no

Goodreads

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.

Galley provided by publisher

Rural Voices for me is overall a good anthology. Each story brings something new to the table and there was a great variety of them. It’s just that there were only a few stories I had strong (positive) feelings about.

The (Unhealthy) Breakfast Club / Monica Roe

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Like with many stories in this anthology, the opener is one that I liked, but I don’t really have much to say about it. It’s got well-rounded characters who are established well enough in the short time you get with them, and it’s definitely one that I would want to see a full novel out of.

The Hole of Dark Kill Hollow / Rob Costello

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This is about the only not-entirely-contemporary story of them, about a wormhole-type-thing that you jump into and it’ll grant your wish but also take something from you. I loved that idea, and the way Rob Costello built up the tension of will these characters jump was so good. Again, one I could see wanting a novel from.

A Border Kid Comes of Age / David Bowles

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In general, I struggle with stories told in verse, because the poetry is always more simplistic than I would pick to read poetry for the sake of poetry. It’s like that here, but it is also very evocative, and I did like the changing style with each section.

Fish and Fences / Veeda Bybee

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This one has to be my favourite of the whole anthology. It’s a pretty simple story, but the whole trope of person A thinks person B hates them, but person B also thinks person A hates them, when neither of them hate the other anyway? It’s so good, and it’s so excellent here I just wanted a full-length novel out of it all.

Close Enough / Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I guess this was the first story that kind of let me down. It really just felt like a lecture on rural stereotypes more than anything. Which would have been fine if it were slightly better integrated into the narrative. Or if anything really happened besides said lecture. The potential romance was cute though.

Whiskey and Champagne / S. A. Cosby

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Another one I don’t have particular feelings about really. The writing was good though, and it’s definitely made me interested to pick up S. A. Cosby’s upcoming thriller.

What Home Is / Ashley Hope Pérez

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Again with the poetry, and the same reasons as the earlier one why it didn’t really work for me. Only this one felt kind of bland on top of all that.

Island Rodeo Queen / Yamile Saied Méndez

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Yet again, I don’t have many feelings about this one. It was cute and the writing was good, and I do think it’s the kind of concept that I would pick a full-length book up based on. I mean, rodeo queen contest and the mc is determined to win? It’s definitely one that I’d say might work better as a book than a short story.

Grandpa / Randy DuBurke

I didn’t rate this one because it’s an unfinished comic (the art, that is), but I liked what I saw of it at least.

Best in Show / Tirzah Price

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Honestly, this f/f story was the reason I wanted to read this anthology at all (I am a simple reader at heart). And it was definitely cute, easily one I could see wanting a whole book of. But it was also not much more than that.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Little Debbies / David Macinnis Gill

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This one was just strange to be honest, and I really don’t know how I feel about it, beyond slightly odd. It’s about a kid who goes to Sunday school, his dog gets run over by the school bus and then the driver (who is also somehow involved in the school) gives him a new puppy. Except the puppy is dying. So, like I said, strange.

The Cabin / Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This was a really creepy little short story, about a girl who is trapping in the woods when a creature approaches her cabin. Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson is so good at building that tension with the creature trying to get in. I think the only thing I’d say is that it felt as if it would benefit from being longer, but again, one I’d read a novel version of, for sure.

Black Nail Polish / Shae Carys

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Back to having not so much to say now. This one was about a girl who gets diagnosed with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. It was good, definitely, and I could easily see it as a longer story (and perhaps I would have liked it more if it had been longer, I don’t know).

Secret Menu / Veeda Bybee

Again, art not complete, so I didn’t rate, but it seems cute.

Pull Up a Seat Around the Stove / Joseph Bruchac

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I initially thought this was another fiction story, to be honest, but it’s not. It’s nonfiction, sort of autobiographical but not a whole-life kind of autobiography. And, I don’t know, maybe I’m in the mood for nonfiction more than fiction at the moment, but this was probably my second favourite piece in the whole anthology.

Home Waits / Estelle Laure

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Well. I liked it. I just, again, do not have much else to add to that.

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