When seventeen-year-old Liberty Briscoe’s mom goes to jail for an environmental protest that resulted in a bombing, Liberty moves from Washington, DC to Ebbottsville, Kentucky, to live with her maternal grandmother. There she discovers a landscape devastated by mountaintop removal coal mining, and a town too fearful of--as well as reliant on--the mine’s unscrupulous owner to question the strange orange water and mysterious illnesses that have appeared ever since the mining operation began. Liberty’s own grandmother has sickened, and while Liberty struggles to care for her granny while keeping her grades up and putting food on the table, she begins to uncover the toxic secrets the mine has tried to bury. Will she follow in the footsteps of her mother, a woman so busy defending the lives of strangers she never had time for her own daughter? Or will Liberty find ways to protect her own family while reaching out to confront the problems of the wider world?
DIG TOO DEEP is a powerful story about family, the environment, and discovering the courage to fight for what’s right. The Appalachian setting is well realized, and the growth of the main character from angry and somewhat self-centered teen to tireless advocate is exhilarating. Many themes are woven into the novel alongside the more obvious environmental ones, including the strength of mother-daughter relationships, the struggles impoverished individuals and communities face, and the value (as well as the difficulty) of discovering one’s true friends. I was particularly moved by Liberty’s tender relationship with her granny, and I was impressed by Allgeyer’s avoidance of bathos or preachiness in a story that could easily have given way to either.
If I have one reservation about the book, it’s that the resolution was a bit too neat; powerful industrialists such as the mine owner in this story seldom leave so much incriminating evidence in such obvious places. (I wish they did; there’d be a lot fewer of them out there wrecking the environment.) But that’s partly a factor of the book being YA, a genre that tends to simplify complex political issues in the interest of a satisfying resolution, and it doesn’t detract from the story’s many strengths.
DIG TOO DEEP comes out on April 1, 2016. With any luck, I’ll be able to post an interview with the author on the blog around that time. Meanwhile, I’m recommending that you all run out and dig up a copy!