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Winter's Bone

Image of Winter's Bone
  If I were doing a literary mash-up, I would put Ree Dolly in the Hunger Games, as she is the country cousin of Katniss Everdeen. Neither girl is someone I would try to cross: fiercely protective of their younger siblings, they will stop at little to survive.  They are inspiring, if a little scary.

In Daniel Woodrell’s Winter's Bone , there are many shady characters that try to thwart Ree. Learning that her father, famed meth producer Jessup, has put the family shack up for bond, Ree promises the sheriff that she’ll find him. The house is all that is keeping her remaining family of younger brothers and mentally ill mother above water.

Winter's Bone has been labeled as “country noir,” and while it’s dark, it is fundamentally a coming-of-age story featuring a teenage girl. What makes Woodrell unique is his ability to capture the landscape of the Missouri Ozarks and the language of poverty. It’s subtle touches, like Ree wearing her grandmother’s ill-fitting coat as she trudges through snow, or teaching her brothers how to hunt squirrels, that make the book stand out.

I’ve read a few books this year that tackle the impact of drug use on a family. This one is the best, in large part because it shows how entire communities can fall apart from drugs. If meth addiction is one of the more under-explored themes in literature, I suspect that’s because authors want to write what they know. Most can see the impact of marijuana, ecstasy and heroin among privilege's children. But Woodrell, who lives in the Ozarks, has a front-row seat in the lives of women like Ree. She may be fictional, but she’s one of the most real characters that I’ve had the honor to meet.

Fair warning: is not for the faint-hearted, as it is violent and occasionally gory. But I highly recommended it for high school curriculums and those looking for a dramatic work of literature.