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Review: Velva Jean Learns to Drive

April 17, 2010

Velva Jean Hart dreams of wearing a rhinestone studded costume and singing at The Grand Ole Opry, but her life is turned upside down when she’s ten years old.  Her father leaves home and her mother passes away.  Velva Jean’s sister, Sweet Fern, is left to raise Velva Jean and her siblings, but it’s just not the same for Velva Jean.  She wonders where her father is and what he did that made her mother become ill.

Velva Jean can tell you that growing up in Appalachia in the 1930’s wasn’t always easy.  While the rest of the country was beginning to recover from the Great Depression, they still struggled financially.  Velva Jean and her brother, Johnny Clay, are extremely close and in their adventures they run into the moonshiner’s son, Harley,  from time to time.   They haven’t seen Harley in years when they attend a Revival and discover he’s a preacher.

After a short courtship, Velva Jean and Harley get married.  When Harley gets a church of his own, he expects Velva Jean to settle down and give up her dreams, because he thinks his dreams are enough for both of them. Velva Jean has to decide if that’s how she wants to live her life.

Velva Jean Learns to Drive by Jennifer Niven is a delightful coming of age story.  I fell in love with Velva Jean and the other characters of Alluvial Holler from the very start.  Velva Jean is spirited and earnest and so wants to be good.  I love that her relationships with her family were so realistic – she was fiercely loyal and faithful to Johnny Clay and indifferent to Sweet Fern.  My heart ached for Velva Jean once she got married – she really did want to be a good wife, but she wasn’t sure the sacrifices Harley asked of her were worth it.

I enjoyed the setting of Velva Jean Learns to Drive as well.  Appalachia of the 1930’s wasn’t an easy place to live, yet the people did it with a quiet dignity and pride.

Jennifer Niven included a few pages in the back of the book to let readers know how this story ties in with her own family’s history and it is fascinating.  I read Velva Jean Learns to Drive because it’s our county’s Amazing Read this year and I wanted to participate in the event.   This book is a great pick for an event like this because it will appeal to a broad range of readers.

Challenges: Read, Remember, Recommend Fiction Reading Challenge
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This book was given to me by the publisher at the SIBA Trade Show.   I am an Indiebound Affliate.


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35 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2010 6:41 am

    I don’t think it is easy to live in Appalachia NOW, let alone back then. The book sounds wonderful, and one that would give you a peek into a lifestyle that is so different from our own.

  2. April 17, 2010 6:42 am

    Oh, I love this book and review. I like it when information is added to the back of the book. In one of my most recent books “Fear to Freedom” there is a lengthy devotional. Lots of good information may come at the end of the book. Thanks for telling about this book. Maybe one day I will have the chance to read it.

  3. April 17, 2010 7:13 am

    Sounds like there would be a lot to discuss — from women’s issues, to the Depression, to dealing with personal difficulties. I’ll put this on my radar.

  4. April 17, 2010 7:28 am

    Kathy, this sounds like a book I would enjoy. I’ll put in on my wishlist.

  5. April 17, 2010 7:31 am

    This book sounds like one I would love to read 🙂 Thanks for the review! And the book cover is just gorgeous!

  6. April 17, 2010 7:52 am

    In some ways this review reminds me of Bloodroot; Greene which I finished last week, but still need to review. Great job Kathy

  7. kaye permalink
    April 17, 2010 9:03 am

    Harley must have been a real joy to live with. NOT! It’s easy to see there would be some clashes there.

  8. April 17, 2010 9:21 am

    Oh, this does sound like a great coming of age story. Great review. I’m going to add it to my wishlist.

  9. April 17, 2010 9:33 am

    This is a book that I’ve been dying to read. I know I’d just love it!

  10. April 17, 2010 10:02 am

    I’ve wanted to read this since seeing the title – I love the character’s name!

  11. April 17, 2010 10:34 am

    Sounds like a good book. I agree with the comments above – so much to discuss!

  12. April 17, 2010 11:27 am

    Fantastic review, this does sound interesting 🙂

  13. April 17, 2010 11:30 am

    This sounds very intriguing and I do love a good coming-of-age story. I hadn’t heard of it before, but I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it at the library now!

  14. April 17, 2010 12:35 pm

    Great review!

    This sounds like a great story, I’d surely enjoy!

  15. April 17, 2010 2:26 pm

    Having just recently read a book set in Appalacia, Where the Lilies Bloom, I think I’d find this an interesting read! Something you said about the storyline is triggering my memory of Their Eyes Were Watching God, too, tho I’m not sure what…

  16. April 17, 2010 3:12 pm

    I just read this book a few months ago and I really enjoyed it too. Great review, Kathy!

  17. April 17, 2010 3:57 pm

    Kathy, this book sounds like something I’d truly enjoy reading. Thanks for a fantastic review. I will be looking for this one. 🙂

  18. April 17, 2010 7:43 pm

    I find myself very amused at the names in this book!

  19. April 17, 2010 8:09 pm

    After reading you review I put this on hold at the library – I love coming of age stories.

  20. April 17, 2010 9:12 pm

    What a fantastic review!! I’ve not heard of this one but I am off to see if my library has a copy!! I must read it this summer! 😀

  21. April 17, 2010 9:12 pm

    This sounds like such a cute book and one right up my alley!

  22. April 18, 2010 9:06 am

    Sounds wonderful. Thanks for the great review!

  23. April 18, 2010 9:45 am

    I really like the cover of this book and your review makes it a book I want on my shelf!

  24. April 18, 2010 10:29 am

    Thanks for reviewing this; I was just thinking of weeding it from my collection but you’ve convinced me it’s a keeper! 🙂

  25. April 18, 2010 11:08 am

    Sounds like a great choice for a county read!

  26. April 18, 2010 4:20 pm

    I love that your county has a reading program! I had never heard of this book or author, but it looks fascinating, and I added it to my list!

  27. April 18, 2010 8:12 pm

    This book sounds interesting! I had not heard of this before, but I will look it up!

  28. stacybuckeye permalink
    April 18, 2010 8:34 pm

    Sounds like a southern winner!

  29. April 18, 2010 9:21 pm

    I’ve picked this one up countless times at the bookstore…sounds like I should actually buy it.

  30. April 19, 2010 9:30 am

    This sounds like a wonderful read. I love books set in this time period and haven’t read much about Appalachia, so there are numerous attractions for me. Great review, Kathy! I am glad that you enjoyed the book. I hope I do too!

  31. April 19, 2010 1:34 pm

    The book sounds like a good one. I really like it when library systems do their “everybody read this” projects. This year, here in Sonoma County, we are all reading Tom Sawyer.

  32. April 19, 2010 1:52 pm

    Another book to add to my to-read list! Thanks for the review.

  33. April 19, 2010 4:52 pm

    This one is definitely going on my wish list. Sounds wonderful.

  34. April 19, 2010 8:13 pm

    Great review! I’ve seen this one around for a while and thought it sounded like a great story. I’d love to read it.

  35. April 23, 2010 3:09 am

    I always find the best books on your blog! Great review!

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