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Christy by Catherine Marshall

Title: Christy
Author: Catherine Marshall
Major Themes: Historical Fiction, Appalachian Mountains, School Teaching
Synopsis: When 19-year-old Christy goes into the mountains of Appalachia to teach 67 students in a 1-room school, she has a lot to learn.

following review written by Emma Filbrun

Some books stick with you a long time. I believe I was probably in my late teens when I first read Christy, which means it was over 20 years ago. I’ve always fondly remembered this book as a great story. When I read it again this week, I discovered that it’s more than just a great story—there are some parts of the story where Christy is given a lot to think about. Catherine Marshall has woven a masterpiece here.

In brief, 19-year-old Christy Huddleston has volunteered to teach school for the tiny mission in Cutter Gap, way back in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina near the Tennessee state line. She has no idea what she is getting herself into. Raised in a genteel home in town, she is shocked and horrified when she arrives in the mountains and sees the way people live, the filth and ignorance, the drinking and feuding. Having 67 pupils in her one-room school is almost overwhelming, and will she ever be able to break through the prejudice against outsiders, or the superstitions she encounters?

At the same time, Miss Alice is there, a Quaker woman who has moved to Cutter Gap to live among and help the people. She has a way of backing Christy into a corner and cutting through her idealism, making her see herself in a new an uncomfortable way—and then pointing her to Jesus. She shows Christy by her life what God’s love is really like.

Moonshining, illiteracy, the doctor with the mysterious locked room, a typhoid epidemic, and the young mission preacher who proclaims himself to be in love with her—Christy has many new experiences during the first 11 months of her stay in the mountains. Based on the life of the author’s mother, this story rings true. I thoroughly enjoyed every page of it.

following review written by Esther Filbrun

Christy was recommended to me many years ago, but for one reason or another, I’ve never managed to actually sit down and read it (an oversight on my part, I agree!). It’s a great book! I have had some exposure to this setting in Lynn Austin’s Wonderland Creek—another highly recommended read—but this one went deeper in some ways, and had a lot more spiritual lessons, in my opinion.

Young Christy has heard a moving message from a man on how needy the mountain people are—and as an idealistic 19-year-old, she’s determined to do her part. She decides to go teach school in one of the mountain communities, and soon is on her way with her parent’s grudging support. What she discovers when she gets there, though, shocks her—she cannot understand the mountain ways, and can hardly bear the smells when the children come to school. How can she learn to value the children for who they are, rather than what they look like? How is she supposed to handle people whose honor system involves revenge killing at times?

Christy is a very complicated story, one I would have a lot of trouble trying to sum up! The biggest thing I loved about it, though, was that while it talked about the difficult parts of the setting, it also showed the joys—and though the people acted very unlovable at times, the love of God shone out of several characters, and proved to be a great encouragement to me.

It’s hard to know how to deal with people sometimes, and this situation—though different from anything I’ve experienced before—reflected the fact that the human race isn’t all that different, no matter where you look. We still have our joys and struggles, and still have things we need each other’s help on. I loved how valued people were in this story, too—even the ones that seemed the most unlovable.

I loved getting to know the people here, and felt like I was experiencing it all along with Christy! A highly recommended story, if you’d like to hear a piece of history that’s often overlooked. It isn’t the prettiest story all the time, but it’s a good one.

WARNING: This book is not for younger readers. I’d say most teenagers would probably be fine, but it does contain a good amount of violence. Moonshining is also mentioned multiple times in this story.

There are multiple mentions of people being shot at, hung, or otherwise hurt—almost too many to mention here! The instances I noted were in ch. 1, 10, 13, 19, 20, 21 (some description), 24, 25, 29, and 35.

A man is hurt by a falling tree in ch. 3, and he is operated on in ch. 4. Christy finds signs of a rabbit that had been killed in ch. 7. She also sees an epileptic boy who wasn’t in his right mind in ch. 7. A woman tells about a girl she had known of who was repeatedly beaten and then raped, and also of a wife that was hung by her husband (both in ch. 7). A baby has died in ch. 9; there’s a little description of how she died, and a bit of description as Christy was helping get her ready for burial. Drunk men come by in ch. 9. Some description of Indian scalping is told of in ch. 10. Some things doctors have to do is mentioned in ch. 10. There are children fighting in ch. 19. A woman has died in ch. 21. A woman shows off a bit more than she should in ch. 21. There’s a mention of how mothers nursed their babies in ch. 22. A boy is hurt and needs to be operated on in ch. 22 (some description). Men are drunk and very rude in ch. 26. A man is killed in ch. 29. A witch is talked about in ch. 37, as well as ghost stories. Also in ch. 37, there is a story of a girl who died. From ch. 38 to the end of the book, a typhoid epidemic rages, and someone dies in ch. 38 (this is described). A boy has typhoid in ch. 40 and is still sick in ch. 42 (described). A girl has a medical emergency with double pneumonia in ch. 41 (some disgusting description). Someone else dies in ch. 45 (described). A woman gets sick with typhoid, is being treated, has bad dreams, and is afraid a man killed someone else in ch. 45.

There is touching between unmarried people in ch. 13, 16, 20, 30, 34, 35 (a dance), and 44. There is kissing between unmarried characters in ch. 30, 34, 36, 39, and 43.

The marriage bed is referenced in ch. 9, 35 (someone overhears a ceremony of “putting the bride to bed”, as well as some talk in multiple places—not very specific). In ch. 33, a woman tells of how she was systematically seduced and taken advantage of when she was in her mid-teens, and how she had a daughter out of wedlock as a result.

Words noted: “Land sakes” appears in ch. 1. “Hell’s Banjer” appears in ch. 3, “not till hell freezes over” is used in ch. 26, and later in the same chapter, “hell” is used again. “Hawk hell” is used in ch. 44. “Confound” appears in ch. 4, 35, and 44. “Blamed” appears in ch. 8, “blame it all” in ch. 32, and “blame” in ch. 44.  “Swear to Josh-way” is used in ch. 9, and “swear” in ch. 9 and 19. “Devil take ye” is used in ch. 9. “Durn” and “gosh-durned” is used in ch. 9, and “derned” in ch. 12, and 16. “Damified” is used in ch. 15. “Sakes alive” appears in ch. 16 and 43. “Blessed” appears in ch. 16, 38, and 43. “Blasted” appears in ch. 17 and 20. “Consarned” appears in ch. 19 and 28. “Holy thunder” is used in ch. 20 and “where in thunder” in ch. 21. “Cuss” is used in ch. 35. “What in tarnation” and “law” are used in ch. 41. “Gee” is used in ch. 42. “A bastard child” is used in ch. 42. Someone is reprimanded for lying in ch. 19.

Age levels:

Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults

Links to buy this book:

Keywords: Appalachian Mountains, School Teaching, Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance Fiction, 20th Century History, 1900-1950 History, North America, Books for Women, Inspirational Fiction

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